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Hurricane Irene: The Aftermath

When my brother RJ Squirrel, who lives in D.C., e-mailed me about the devastation that Hurricane Irene wreaked on his home and his family Saturday, I asked if he’d be willing to share his plight with Writerland readers, and he graciously obliged. Please take a minute to read this harrowing tale. It will make you appreciate how fortunate you are not to live on the East Coast (unless, of course, you do, in which case I offer my condolences.) Regularly scheduled posting will resume tomorrow, or the next day. And now, from RJ:

You’re undoubtedly wondering how we survived the onslaught of Hurricane Irene, so I wanted to give you an update.

First and most important—we made it, bowed, perhaps but not broken. The experience was, however, horrific.

Once the storm had passed this morning, we emerged, blinking at the unfamiliar sunlight, to survey the damage. The destruction we witnessed was, well, devastating. In our yard alone, I counted at least three—maybe four, it was hard to tell—twigs lying on the lawn. As I looked down the street, there was literally not a single house that didn’t have dozens of leaves scattered across the lawn. The leaves were literally ripped from the trees by the terrible winds that bore down on us. Everywhere, flowers were bent over in their pots, a few having even lost some petals to the merciless rain.

The water damage was on a whole different level. Grass was matted down where the downspouts emptied their torrents onto the lawn. Low spots where during normal storms small puddles would form instead sported large puddles. And everywhere—everywhere—the ground was wet. If you were to walk anywhere on the lawn in your socks, they would literally be very wet.

But the crushing aftermath was a relief compared to what we endured throughout the course of the storm. The rain lashing at the windows, combined with the howling of the wind, produced such a noise that we literally had to turn the TV volume up somewhat to hear the show clearly. With Twitter, non-stop coverage on all channels, internet-based weather services, and iPad apps our only links to the outside world, it was difficult to tell what was happening with the storm, and the anxiety was unbearable. Then the ultimate, crushing blow—the power went out. We had been watching a movie and as we sat there in the dark, the panicked questions raced through our minds: How long until our frozen food melted? Are our iPods charged? What shows will the DVR miss recording? Mercifully, the interminable waiting ended, and power was restored, a full 50—maybe even 60—seconds after it went out. Of course, it took probably four times that long before the projector was able to recycle and start, but so relieved were we to finally have the electricity back on that we didn’t mind the wait.

Of course, there have been other natural disasters that also have been tough for some—Katrina, the tsunami, the Northridge and Loma Prieta earthquakes—but as we all know, this one happened on the East Coast and so dwarfs all those in importance. We’re just grateful we survived and while it’s not an experience we’d wish on anyone, we know our children will long remember it and will have grown stronger for having lived through it.

Now we turn to picking up the shattered pieces of our lives, which we hope we can do with the grace of God and substantial FEMA grants.

Thank you for your concern and prayers.

RJ and Family

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R. J. Squirrel is overeducated, underemployed, and jealous of his little sister’s writing career. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, son and daughter, six freeloading feral cats, and three regular cats.

10 comments to Hurricane Irene: The Aftermath

  • […] Writerland » Hurricane Irene: The Aftermath […]

  • Kristan


    I was afraid it was going to be an actual account of the devastation (which most definitely WAS experienced by many people in some areas) but this was a nice light morning read. Thanks to both you and Mr. Squirrel.

    (As a Gulf Coast native, I just hope people aren't going to write off all future warnings simply because this particular storm turned out to be much less destructive than anticipated. That's the thing about hurricanes: you never know. They *often* hit land and weaken, but they *might* do the opposite. If you're not prepared, you're screwed.)

    • Kristan – You're right, the storm was very real for some people. But don't worry- the media will make a HUGE deal out of every impending storm.

    • RJSquirrel


      Yes, we were lucky and do appreciate that fact. No question there were people here in Virginia — especially the beach communities — for whom it was no joke. I wrote this primarily to my siblings in Michigan and upstate New York who watch with bemusement — and needle me mercilessly about — the media hype every time there's severe weather on the East Coast. Two feet of snow in Michigan rates a shrug while 10 inches in DC requires non-stop coverage.

      I share your concern about becoming blase about future warnings. The fact is that Irene could have been a lot worse and there are simply limits to what weather forecasters can know. Better safe than sorry, provided you're not inducing panic. In fact, my niece was trying to decide whether to drive to DC from Detroit on Saturday and while I thought she could probably make it most of the way, my advice was to wait. It is after all, a hurricane.

  • Ani

    That's funny! "What shows will the DVR miss recording?" The horror, the horror!

  • Aditi raychoudhury

    Humor runs in the family! Great read!

  • KLM

    The only real problem with Hurricane Irene or any other storm in DC is that we have these huge oak trees that topple over fairly easily and if you have the misfortune of living on a block where one falls, it takes the power lines out but it only affects your one block. Which makes you a super low priority for the power company and thus, you don't get your power back for days and days. Like, this is what happened to us the day we returned home from the hospital with our 2nd child. Newborn baby, 90 degrees, no power, chainsaws running all night while they chopped up the fallen trees in the street. That did suck.

    Hurricanes are like the threat of terrorism: a very real problem for some, mostly a huge inconvenience for everyone else.

    Hey, I'm in Arlington, VA. I wonder if I'm near Senor Squirrel.

    • KLM – I don't know Virginia well enough to know how close you are, but you're a lot closer to him than I am. If you're ever in the market for a feral cat, let me know. And the oak tree problem sounds like a total bummer. I hope you didn't lose power for more than 50 or 60 seconds this time, though, and that you had time to DVR your favorite show before the storm hit. Like Kristan said, the storm did pose real problems for some people. Even worse than the plastic lawn chairs that tipped over during the earthquake. We out here in the West are sending good thoughts your way.

    • RJSquirrel

      Your description of the power problem is too true, especially in the older, established neighborhoods in places like DC, Alexandria, and Arlington. The power companies always get savaged for their apparent inability to respond but as you point out, they're faced with tough choices about allocating their limited resources.

      That's one of the reasons snow proves such a problem in DC. The area averages about 15" of snow a season, coming typically in snowfalls of 2-5 inches. If you size your snow removal fleet to handle that average, you're going to be hard pressed to clear quickly a 10- or 12-inch snowfall. People inevitably complain that it takes too long to clear the roads, but if the VDOT and MDOT had huge fleets of trucks sitting around all winter with nothing to do, people would complain (rightfully) about the wasted resources.

      I'm in Fairfax Station, just a quick jaunt down the road. Well, it would be if they'd just clear the damn trees and snow on time…