Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hurricane Journal: In the Cold

In the midst of our extended period without electricity, around day seven, a friend of mine had a thought that really lingered with me.  "The first two days without electricity are fun," C said, "and then reality sets in."  For us, it was a very cold reality.  In hindsight, the days rather blur together in my mind.  Now, more than three weeks since the storm, the eight days we spent without power seem like a lost week.

As the cold settled in, the temperature of my house steadily declined.  When I have electricity, I listen to NPR for hours at a time.  Without the radio, the steady sound of my day was the whir of generators in town, a loudly humming noise that was a reminder of our lack of power.  JT spent some time tuning in my Eton crank-fueled radio and by Wednesday morning I could once again hear the sounds of WNYC, my local public radio station. 

Once the radio was operational, we had company again.  And it was company on the form of actual news and facts instead of the over-the-fence rumor mongering and anxiety that had quickly taken hold in the absence of solid information.  I could learn about the damage elsewhere and hear about the help that had already arrived.  My town and its authorities, who had been so useful in Hurricane Irene, were pretty useless in the period after this storm.  Warming and charging stations would have been welcome by Wednesday evening, but it took until Friday night for our town to make them available.  As temperatures sank and gasoline proved scarce, people became increasingly anxious.  Though it wasn't the case for anyone I knew, the radio assured me that others lacked food and water.   T and I checked in with each other a couple times every day, though our need to keep our phones charged meant that long conversations were not an option.  I had to start my car to charge my cell phone, which was a lifeline to friends and loved ones as well as my sister KO's daily power company updates.  The cell phone also kept me informed about school cancellation, which was handled on a day-by-day basis as the school also waited for electricity.

As it became clear to me that we were going to be a long time without power, I headed up to the attic to find my Nebraska-rated bedding, which I layered on to our beds.  On top of the flannel sheets went a warm blanket.

And then a down comforter wrapped in a flannel duvet.

On top of that was a quilt, to hold in the warmth of the down.  The beds looked like a stuffed goose, but underneath those heavy covers we were very warm as we slept.

For a couple of those cold nights, a friend who lives in town and I combined forces to share suppers and warmth.  Thanks to natural gas, we both had the ability to take hot showers and cook on our gas stoves.  My house faces north and didn't get much passive heat during the cold days, but M's house faces east, with windows to the south and her living room was much warmer in the cold evenings.  On Friday, M scored some bags of ice which we used to keep a little cold food.  Between the ice and night temperatures in the 30s, I was able to keep milk, cheese, eggs, and a newly-opened jar of mayo.  Somehow, this made me feel more civilized.

That same afternoon, I called PSE&G for an electricity restoration update and the automatic service told me that our power would be restored by the next day at 3 pm.  JT and I were euphoric and that night the cold seemed easier to bear.  But come 3 pm on Saturday, there was no power.  My sister learned from the PSE&G website that we were now slated for restoration in the following week.  It's not an exaggeration to say that I greeted this news with desperation.  Worn out by the cold, JT and I threw caution to the wind, fired up the car, and went over to a local mall for a few hours.  We came home to a cold, black darkness and my anxiety began to rise.  That night, T, herself still without power, persuaded me to visit some friends with electricity for the day, and I fell asleep thinking about a plan for Sunday.  The next three days found us traveling about, seeking warmth and charged electronics.  And that's a story for another day.

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