OUR COMPLETELY UNPLANNED REFUGEE VACAY, PART I
Some of you may have a vague awareness that Alabama was hard-hit by a string of very large and powerful tornadoes Wednesday. My hometown of Huntsville was hit by 6 of them. I spent most of Wednesday afternoon watching them lining up to our west on radar and then around 4 they started rolling into our city. I stood outside with coworkers watching these huge rotating cloud systems travel at amazing speeds over the top of our shop and just to our north. We watched one of the larger ones as it touched down and heard over the radio that it had hit a grocery store and housing development. Some time just after five our power finally gave out. I assumed the damage would be limited and the power would be back up shortly. I was wrong.
We spent Wednesday night completely in the dark, both literally and figuratively. I went home expecting to pick my son up, go find a restaurant/bar with electricity and spend a few hours waiting on the utility workers to get things back online. As we drove from one end of our darkening town to the other, carefully easing through the lightless intersections, it became clear that the power outage was massive. The only place we found open was our usual taco truck running off battery/generator power and with a crowd of people gathering out front. As I waited in line for dos pork burritos I overheard the gentlemen in front of me say that all of North Alabama was without power and the nuclear plant had been shut down. Scary shit. I still went home believing that things would be repaired during the night and I’d need to be at work the following morning. I lit some candles, plugged my now dead phone in with hope that it would start charging as a slept, and went to bed early.
Thursday morning came and still no power. I used my son’s phone to try and reach my boss and the network was down. I took a luke-warm shower, got dressed and headed out to my car to listen to the radio reports. I was shocked to find a tiny 8 page newspaper hanging from my doorknob. In a heroic effort, our local paper The Huntsville Times stayed up all night putting together this mini-edition using an extension cord plugged into an RV to run their press. The 8 pages are almost entirely photos of destruction and the small amount of text was all bad news. Electricity would be out for days - damage worse than estimated - hundreds missing.
I sat and thought for a bit. We had no grill. No natural gas utilities. Batteries were low. Phones were dead or dying. The food in the refrigerator was already room temperature. The one thing we had in our favor was a half a tank of gas and money in the bank. I woke my son up and told him we were heading north for a day or two. Long enough for me to get online and get a better idea of what was happening, charge our phones, get in touch with relatives and buy non-perishable food items, something we had woefully little of. We packed our overnight bags, dropped off the food that would go bad in our absense at Ronstormer’s house (they have a grill), and headed for Tennessee.
The small town of Athens just northwest of us miraculously still had power, and as a result they also had half the state trying to get at their gas pumps. The lines were tremendous and people had parked and were outside their vehicles trying to glean news from one another. Overnight gas stations had become the trading posts of yore. We decided to just head north on the old two lane highway instead of the interstate which appeared to be a parking lot, and on our way drove directly through the path of the tornado observing the damage to Tanner, Alabama first hand. My empty light came on somewhere around Lynchberg but every exit we passed had lines of cars waiting just to get off the interstate and then get in line for gas. We kept going and had just enough gas to get us as far as Columbia, TN before we had to stop. We spotted a Super 8 with free internet and grabbed a room. We’ve been in Columbia since then. Our friends in Decatur now have their power back and more and more shops in Huntsville have opened up and are operating on generators, but Huntsville is still without power and looking to remain that way until sometime Monday. Chris and I are heading back to Alabama tomorrow. I’m dropping him off in Decatur to stay with friends and then I’m going on into the city with all of my electronics charged, an assortment of soft drinks, potato chips, cookies and sandwich stuffs and six $1 flashlights. I will have plenty of distraction free time to clean out my fridge, and get in some reading. Hope to see you again in a few days Tumblr.