Reflections on Irene

Going on 84 hours without power. Well, that’s not exactly true – 84 hours minus 20 minutes to be exact. We had power briefly on Monday night. They turned on the power in town and apparently we are part of the same grid. Which was great. Except when they turned on the power, they hadn’t yet cleared the massive oak tree still using our power lines as a hammock. So the police and utility trucks rolled in only to shut the power off, put up some cones and leave. That was two days ago. Tonight I came home to find a tree crew working on it. Their mere presence was uplifting. I should have known better, though, because once the tree crew was done we were left in semi-darkness awaiting the line crew.

Luck
First off, Connecticut was incredibly lucky. Irene was progressively downgraded and hit us as a Category 1. We only had a small amount of storm-related deaths. PSA: it is a bad idea to take your canoe out on a raging flooded river in the middle of a hurricane. There were some areas of massive damage (Cosey Beach in East Haven) but statewide it could have been much worse if Irene arrived as a Category 3 as initially advertised. We are much less flooded than New York, Vermont or Maine.

We were lucky too. A massive tree hit another massive tree during the height of the storm, and like dominoes they came crashing down only inches from the house. Yes, it landed in our pool and yes, it pretty much landed smack on my container garden. Combing through twisted tomato cages today I see nothing is salvageable. But you have to put things in perspective: I harvested all I could the night before the storm and no one was hurt. More luck came our way when we scored a $50 broken generator off of Craigslist. These things were going like hotcakes – less than 5 minutes and the ad would be gone. It was no small miracle that we were first on the list for this one.

We are also fortunate in that we have power at work. We can use the running water, the bathrooms and lights without worrying about generator capacity. I’m hoarding eight Chobani, two bricks of cheddar and a dozen eggs in the office fridge. This morning I brought my grinder, beans, and french press for coffee. Hartford has been largely spared so I can buy lunch. So while we have power and takeout and all the comforts of modern life at work, at the end of the day we have to go back home. Driving back toward home is like going into a war zone full of emergency vehicles and caution tape. Going back and forth between those two worlds in the same day is very, very strange.

Human Nature
Though New Englanders consider ourselves a hardy bunch, its becoming readily apparent that we’re not. Day 1 was fun. Day 2 it got a little old. Day 3 meant we were stinkier and crankier. But Day 4? Straight up surly. This is no longer fun. Entire contents of refrigerators are now dangerous. Our Governor told us to be without power for a week, but I don’t think everyone believed it.

People straight up suck. The price gouging going on around here? Incredible. Most of our local gas stations managed to spike their prices before the hurricane hit. We put our names on lists at several chain hardware stores trying to secure a generator. We got a call on Saturday morning telling us they had only one left… for $1800. Actual retail price is more like $900. There are no words for these people. When ice is in short supply, I bet the markup on frozen water is similarly nauseating. That said, some people do not suck. The UConn Women’s Basketball team is hosting a spaghetti dinner at our local high school/emergency shelter. You can have a hot shower, fill up with some fresh water, have a hot meal and meet the team (and Coach Geno Auriemma). My local breakfast spot bought me coffee when they found out how long I was without power. It really is all about the little things.

Priorities
I’ve never had to consider wattage in our kitchen before. Come on – have you? Our stove takes too many watts for the generator, so it is out of comission. Same thing with our nifty induction burner. So we continue to cook on the Coleman stove. We use the generator for the upstairs fridge/freezer, chest freezer, kitchen lights and water pump (note not the water heater). We even got to watch a bit of news last night. It felt like cheating.

Thank god for Twitter. I never thought I’d say it. I’ve been getting more local updates via tweets than our town’s emergency alert system or NPR. I owe most of our info to a local Hartford Courant reporter. Who would have thought?

Preparedness
On Saturday I was #hurricanning like a lot of folks. I put up mixed squash pickles, pickled Italian hot peppers and marinated poblanos. I froze my chicken stock to act as extra insulation in the chest freezer. I prepped the last of the pickling cukes to ferment a la Well Preserved as well as my fresh picked green tomatoes a la Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. I left watermelon and peaches whole instead of beginning pickles and jam. I discovered peaches keep for quite a long time at room temperature under a tea towel. The quickest to ripen are macerating on my counter with sugar and whiskey.

I really, REALLY regret not having pressure canned. I bought a used canner months ago, but have been lazy about getting it calibrated. Had we been stocked with ready to go jars of chili verde and shredded bbq beef I think I would have been far less stressed out. If we could live on pickles and jam alone, though we would be set.

Many people put water away and filled up their bathtubs. But we’re on Day 4 of life without power. People are running out. At this point, it largely depends where you are. Rural Salem and Sterling are still 100% out. We joke that eastern CT is forsaken, even though its not funny at all. As I finish typing this on the morning of Day 5 – now approaching 96 hours without power – our generator is keeping my chest freezer solid. Our dishes are piling up. Our house looks – surprise – like its been camped in. And I’m finishing typing this post on my smartphone. Though I am becoming increasingly bipolar – swinging from “I’m fine, I don’t know why everyone is whining” to “I swear if those m-fers don’t turn on the power tonight I am going to murder someone.” I am more and more aware of the shortcomings in my preparedness and I am going to make changes for the next one. So bring it on, zombie apocalypse. I’ll be ready.

12 thoughts on “Reflections on Irene

  1. Cody

    You rock. Thanks for the update. Without explicit statements like these, it’s hard to know the extent of the impact in any real way. I’m looking forward to future updates, of course!

    Stay strong (emotionally, that is). Even when the power comes back on, the people who can be a shoulder to lean on will be in high demand. And, if I do say so myself, you’ve got some nice shoulders. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Aagaard Farms

    Well done to come through with grace and humor! I’m so sorry for your container garden, food in the fridge, lack of showers, etc but so thankful you and your family are okay! Chin up! What’s that American victory garden sign: ‘Stay calm and carry on!’ Thanks for the great update!

    Reply
    1. Kate @ Snowflake Kitchen Post author

      I don’t know about grace but there was plenty of humor in the past 5 days. Thanks for the well wishes!

      Reply
  3. local kitchen

    Kate,

    We were lucky to get power back within 48 hours, but I so know what you mean; by the morning of Day 2 it was getting old. Things are slowly progressing in my hood; the streetlights are back on, making driving oh-so-much easier but I know my friends on the Western side of Westchester, in CT and in parts of Jersey are on Day 5 without power. Ouch.

    We are on Day 5 without any way to contact the outside world; apparently Optimum cable lost a big transformer so the whole area is down. Also, it seems that several cell phone towers were damaged; so no phone, no cell phone, not texts, no internet, no TV. Not that I care a lot about that last one, but.. it’s just nerve-wracking not being able to reach anyone for days on end. And not having any idea how the storm is tracking… a battery-powered radio is on my list. Also battery-powered coffee grinder, because OH MY GOD. I came *this* close to grinding beans by hand with a meat mallet. Oh, and who knew? Our bathtub doesn’t hold a seal. Filled it up… Sunday morning it was empty. So yes, we were the ones paying exobitant prices for the last few remaining bottles of water in Westchester, and the Hubs spent at least one full day searching for ice. He wanted to buy a generator for the chest freezer; I believe my reply was “Good luck with that.” Luckily it fared pretty well; I”d say 48 hr is the outside limit, without opening it, as some things near the top had clearly thawed and re-frozen (I did a big freezer/fridge clean-out yesterday, now that I have the luxury of running water again).

    And yes, we were very lucky: our little cottage is surrounded on three sides by trees, but we are also sort of tucked into the side of a hill and really escaped unscathed. I pulled in all my container plants except the tomatoes, which I pushed against the side of the house; have to think we were in the lee of the wind because I left some green tomatoes on there on they survived the storm. Our house is a converted horse barn from the 1700’s; have to say they knew how to situate them back then.

    I’m camping out at a friend’s house today (she lives in power-full and internet-ready White Plains) because I had a teleconference this morning, documents to review, emails to send… did I mention “getting old?” But I try not to complain too much; my friend Nadine showed me pictures of her CSA farm in Dutchess County – they are under 10 FEET of water. The National Guard was there trying to pump them out. So devastating.

    Hang in there – fingers crossed that life returns to normal soon.

    Reply
    1. Kate @ Snowflake Kitchen Post author

      Kaela! Glad you’re ok. My parents only just got power late last night. It’s crazy. So glad we had money to spend on restocking our fridge from scratch…. but you’re right about how much worse off we could be.

      Reply
  4. growandresist

    Wow, thanks for the insider update (and Kaela too!). Sounds…awful. Wish I could do something!
    In completely unrelated stuff- I didn’t know you were eastern CT. I biked w/ the ladyfriend through (I think) that part of the state and it is effing hilly. Gorgeous, but damn, those hills. Hardest part of the ride from ME to SC!

    Reply
  5. Angela Watts

    It definitely gets old by the second day of waking up to light-getting excited-and then realizing its the sun and not a light bulb you left on when the power went out.

    The spring flooding we dealt with it, as our teeny section of Maine seems to be not down-town enough for power to be a priority, plus we are not on the same circuit as the actual town hall, being across the street from it.

    So we drove to and from work (the hubs to his security job, me to Home Depot to my plants) through empty roads and haunted looking areas. I spent more time answering if we had generators, where the tarps and water was than dealing with plants, and the hubs spent lots of time answering the phone and coordinating with the police to evict squatters in his parking lots but still get them to an appropriately safe place.

    Across the river NH always seems to have power which is frustratingly annoying. If I could just run an extension cord across the river I’d be all set.

    We went 24hrs this storm. My container garden faired fine, the new pea planting is up and happy, and although I lost my just picked wild blackberries, I got everything else canned the night before.

    Reply
    1. Kate @ Snowflake Kitchen Post author

      Angela are you in Eliot then? I went to college in Maine, I know the Piscataqua River Bridge well. Sugarloaf was completely cut off for a while! Crazy stuff.

      Reply
  6. jonquil

    considering that gouging is illegal i would turning those thieves in. we were very lucky in derby..electric stayed on, no damage to the apartment. you’re right how spoiled so many are taking electric & drinkable water for granted. i never thought vermont & new york state would get so hammered. *really* grateful irene was but a baby hurricane & am making notes on how to better prep for the next storm.

    Reply
  7. Deborah Fraim

    I live in Florida and an important hurricane preparedness tip I learned is to take a new shower curtain liner and place it in your bathtub before filling it and it won’t leak out. Although you have to stay around while it is filling to make sure the liner doesn’t curl up and let the water get underneath, it really seals it off. Good luck!!

    Reply
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