September 3, 2012
When we moved to New Orleans three years ago, we did so knowing we could experience a hurricane or two. Most people live in areas where natural disasters are possible, so we didn’t let that stop us. We were excited to see what the hype of one of America’s most celebrated cities would offer. It must be special if the city was nearly wiped out four years previous and a good chunk of the population decided to rebuild.
When we got here, it was evident the wounds of Katrina were mostly healed, but the scars on the people who lived through it would last a lifetime. It only took a few minutes into most conversations before you were introduced to a local’s Katrina experience. However, they loved their city so much they could look past it.
Here comes Isaac
Hurricane Isaac was almost never even born. It wobbled around in the Gulf while defying forecasters expectations of intensity and direction. Just when they thought it was locked in on a path, it would do something unexpected. Warren Buffett made the point of the difficulty associated with complex systems when he discussed the stock market:
“Speaking of complex adaptive systems… Sometimes, the behavior of the parts creates a trend. However, because each agent has only limited knowledge, everyone perceives a trend but no one has any ideas what caused it.”
Isaac moved into the New Orleans area on Tuesday, August 28th. However, forecasters weren’t even sure if New Orleans was in the path all the way until Sunday. When we went shopping on Saturday, we bought some items just in case, but we weren’t in full hurricane mode. By Sunday morning the track was more certain and it seemed we’d be impacted. With this information, we took our shopping more seriously and stocked up.
My wife’s job required her to sleep at the office during the storm because of her “essential” status. This meant I was left at home with our dog Lucy and a friend’s dog who also had to ride work out at the office… so that was one of the biggest bummers!
After I tweeted some “preparedness” pictures, one got picked up by Tech News Daily and they featured the pic and talked about how some of us continued to show our “spirit” through the storm.
During the Storm
The early bands moved in on Tuesday evening. It wasn’t anything too intense, mostly just gusty winds to 40-50 mph and some rain. It felt like I was on a sailboat with the wind perfectly capable of filling the sales and the light rain falling sideways as if it blew off of the top of waves.
Even though the wind wasn’t much, it was enough to knock out power around 6pm because of our aged Uptown infrastructure. When this happened, I went out on the front porch to see what was going on. I guess that’s our first reaction when something happens because we want to see if any of the neighbors know what’s going on.
As I made it up there, I realized all of my other neighbors had the same idea, and I was the last one to the party! I said hi to neighbors I already knew and introduced myself to the others who I’d seen many times but never had the time to talk to. Isn’t that always the case (excuse)? The power came back on shortly after, but we had all already been pulled to the porch.
Luckily most of my neighbors are veterans and knew how to prepare for a hurricane. They pulled out two gallons of daiquiris they purchased earlier in the day! The rest of the night was spent turning neighbors into friends as we watched the storm gradually strengthen. I headed back to my house around 11:00pm with the power still on.
The winds were howling and it was evident Isaac was about to get serious. Tropical storm status was no longer enough and he was ready to hit the shore as a hurricane. As I laid down in bed, I was reminded of childhood fears. One of the scariest things was when the lights turned out and the things that went bump in the night started bumping. No matter how many times my parents told me there was nothing to be afraid of, I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew what was really in the closet.
This time I knew what was causing the bumps, but I had no idea what would be next. Could the large tree in our backyard withstand Hurricane Isaac like it had done with other hurricanes for decades previous? Did I sufficiently board up my windows to prevent the things that were hitting the side of my house from coming inside? I fell asleep.
Instead of the light of morning shining through my windows and gently removing me from slumber, I woke up to the hot humid air which had taken the place of the cool air I went to sleep with. I looked down at my phone and noticed my neighbor texted me to tell me he was turning the generator on – it was 4am and the power was out. He previously offered me a power cord hooked to his generator that I could use if the power went off. What a neighbor!
The only problem was I hadn’t figured out the best way to snake the cord into the house. The back doors weren’t an option because they were boarded up and too tight to fit a cord through anyway. Instead, I’d have to go outside and feed it through a small crack through the bedroom window where the shutters didn’t quite cover. The sky sounded even angrier.
I put on my shoes and rain jacket and felt like I was going to battle. As soon as I opened the backdoor, I realized Isaac meant business. The large tree in our backyard looked like it was bending over in an attempt to touch my roof while the rain was taking the same sideways angle and pelting the side of the house. As I took the cord to the alley where our bedroom is, the narrow passage between my house and my neighbors felt like a wind tunnel.
The gusts had to be up to 80-90 mph, and I was more scared now than I had been before. I was no longer protected by the reinforced structure of the house; it was just me and nature. As I was feeding the power cord through the window, my hat blew off and the thought of leaving it behind crossed my mind but I retrieved it. The cord was through the window and I headed back inside as I watched the tree continue to dance with the wind. Luckily none of the branches still on the tree decided to join their brethren already on the ground.
When I got back inside, I decided to get on Twitter to get some updates. I tweeted a few things about the intensity of the storm, and before I attempted to go back to sleep, but before I did, I noticed someone tweeted me to ask if I’d be willing to come on their show to give a phone update. It was someone from the BBC! I replied back and offered my first hand perspective.
They initially called me around 5am to test the phone quality before the program which was to start at 6am my time. This meant I wasn’t going back to sleep. The 25 minute BBC program was “World Have Your Say” and they brought on 4-5 people from the New Orleans area to give updates. I was the “main” interviewer and answered 5-6 questions about the current status of the storm, how we were coping, and if we had confidence in the levees.
By Wednesday morning, if you were watching national news, you might have seen why they asked me about the levees. The fear of another levee breach inundating the city like it had done during Katrina was present. However, the Army Corp of Engineers had spent the last 5 years and tens of billions of dollars shoring things up. Everyone felt pretty good about them, but this would be the first test. When the news started coming down that levees had failed, national media panic ensued.
What they didn’t realize was the levee that failed was a small “private levee” that was quite a distance from New Orleans. It was not one of the corp’s levees and New Orleans was not in danger. Luckily we had a Baton Rouge meteorologist on the BBC program as well who was able to explain all of this to the people of the United Kingdom. After the interview, I went back to sleep around 6:45am.
My next wakeup call was around 8:30am by the same howling winds I encountered during my power cord rendezvous earlier. We didn’t have any damage to the house, but I did see some neighbors had some downed branches and knocked over fences. Even though it was just as strong, the storm wasn’t as scary in daylight because of the comfort of seeing things.
Just as the neighbors became friends, so did the dogs. There’s nothing like a little adversity to pull everyone together. The rest of the day was spent congregating with friends and doing minimal work outside as the storm was still raging. I did manage to snap a few pictures during the day.
By Wednesday night, Hurricane Isaac was downgraded to a tropical storm and the winds and rain weren’t nearly as strong. We all gathered to eat dinner at a friend’s house and trade war stories from the previous night. We enjoyed some margaritas and looked forward to starting clean up work in earnest the next morning.
A Return to Normalcy
At times in life we have a break from the day routine and Hurricane Isaac definitely provided that; a break from the living the life we’ve either intentionally or unintentionally built. A life that most of us love and a routine most of us love and would never give up… but it makes you think. How have I been living?
We’ve overcomplicated our lives. As my neighbors and I were commiserating about how miserable it was without electricity, air conditioning, television, and the inability to leave our houses, we started to realize how easy it was to live without all of that.
Maybe this is what they meant when they talked about the good ole days. Before the air conditioning, when the front porch was the coolest place to be, and before television, when talking to neighbors and friends provided all the entertainment you needed. Now we’ve managed to turn our houses into our own jail cells and have become janitors to our stuff, locking ourselves inside to keep out the elements and plugging ourselves into electronics to keep from thinking or connecting too much.
All of our neighbors came together to hang out and talk in the absence of our modern day conveniences. We were forced to build friendships, entertain ourselves, and live without air conditioning.
When you’re without power and away from the daily work routine, you’re reminded that time is a human invention. You don’t start your morning by punishing your alarm because you’re angry it woke you up. Instead, you wake when your body is ready. Your day isn’t controlled by a schedule dictated by work. You can spend two hours hanging out with a neighbor friend without feeling guilty because you should be somewhere else or doing something else.
Now the utility companies are out working hard to restore power to the city. My wife is back now and we hope our electricity will be on by Friday, but it could take longer. Even though we’re ready for it to come back on and resume normalcy, there’s a little part of me that’s not looking forward to it…
Then again, maybe it’s just the break in routine that I really desired instead of not having modern day conveniences. I guess it’s like a vacation. It’s awesome to get away, experience new things, and break the normal routine. However, at the end of vacations we’re usually ready to get back to normal.
**Most of this article was written on Thursday, and I didn’t want to rewrite it based on additional perspective I gained later in the week. Mainly, we were without power for three more days, and it was a horrible experience! The heat index was over 100 each of those days, and it made it very hard to be productive or even stay cool. Be sure to check out my Facebook page to see additional pictures and updates from the storm.**