Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Earthquake, Evacuation & Eye Witness News

My three kids and I were enjoying a fun filled last week of summer at the Jersey shore (the family friendly kind!) when life was suddenly all shook up...literally!

I had escaped to the bedroom for a coveted nap to help get rid of my pre-hurricane headache. With my fribromyalgia, I have become a walking barometer and can feel a hurricane off the coast of Florida days before I hear about it on the news! We had been bombarded with forecasts and amazing pictures of the impending tempest, Irene, which was due to hit our coast in the next few days.

Hurricane Irene approaching the coast of NC.
As we typically don't have much to worry about, I decided to try to sleep off my usual "hurricane headache" while Baby napped and the older two were amusing themselves quietly. I had just laid down when I felt tugging on the bed covers. Looking around, I didn't see anyone and assumed that my son had snuck in to play a joke on me. The door was still closed but my bed was rocking back and forth! Good grief, what in the world was hiding under the bed?!  A big gust of wind came through the window and the whole bed shook.  At this point, I assumed that we were experiencing some extremely strong storm winds off the water, until I heard cries of "Mom?, Mom?!" from the other room as my older two came running to see what was causing the commotion.

Realization hit me as the entire room shook and I explained that we must be having an earthquake.  I grabbed my still sleeping toddler and we headed outside.  Things stopped as suddenly as they had started, but we were all left wondering what in the world was going on, this is the Jersey shore not California?!

East Coast Earthquake

I put Baby back down for the rest of her nap, none-the-wiser, and turned on the news.  We had indeed experienced a 5.9 earthquake up and down the East coast from DC to Boston!  Floods of Tsunami images filled my mind as I looked out to the ocean.  As calmly as I could, I told my son to try to call Dad and my daughter to watch the water and if it started heading out to sea...RUN!  Ridiculous, I know, as if we could out run a Tsunami, but it's hard not to worry about such things with the news over the past few years.  Hubby always balances my creative worry with his voice of reason, and once we got through on the phone he did so again when he reminded me that the reason we call them Tsunami's is because they usually happen near Japan!

Within the hour we were all calm, cool, collected and cracking up at the news coverage in our area. My personal favorite was the picture of a single chair knocked over among a standing few to show how powerful of a shake we had received...a plastic chair mind you!  I'm sure our West coast friends were having a good laugh at the day long coverage over what to them would be a more usual occurrence.

I was thankful for the coverage, however, because it helped put my mind at ease.  They specifically addressed my Tsunami concerns, calmed my fears and provided a few cathartic laughs over the proceeding hours.  Granted, this was an unprecedented event in our lifetime, as the last earthquake of that magnitude had not been felt around these parts for a hundred years or so. I recall a smaller quake as a child when I woke my sleeping parents to inform them that a ghost was shaking the house!

Little did we know that just a few days later Hurricane Irene would cause another unprecedented event on the Jersey shore...a mass exodus!


Before long the earthquake coverage subsided only to be replaced with hurricane coverage.  As I had been planning to head home during Friday afternoon and Irene wasn't due in our area til Saturday, I figured I'd be well out of harm's way in plenty of time.  We even enjoyed a beautiful beach day on Wednesday and continued making plans for the rest of the week.

What I didn't anticipate was the mandatory evacuation for the Barrier Islands by Friday morning! All day Thursday, I kept a watchful eye on the weather channel, local news, updates from my source at the N.W.P.D. (big bro), my ever-overprotective-Dad and much more nonchalant Hubby - both back home in PA. Dad had been telling me all week to fill up the tank, "just in case", but I had not yet done so. Yes, I'm a rotten daughter. I had intended on filling up the next time I ventured out, but before I knew it we were battening down the hatches and haulin' it out of Irene's way.

My brother informed me that the island would need to be evacuated by 6 a.m. the following morning. This had not yet aired on the news, so I hoped that my inside scoop was providing me with ample opportunity to hit the road before thousands of others.

Noticing the ominous clouds outside our window from a separate storm, I instructed the kids to start packing things in the van before the rain hit. They had no sooner headed down and began loading the van when I looked to see a curtain of rain headed our way over the bay. Within seconds the heavens were dumping buckets of water while we frantically stashed the patio furniture and ran for cover. Needless to say, we were all drenched. Fortunately, the storm passed quickly so we could pack up, secure the condo and head out of town in fair weather.

We stopped at the nearest gas station and waited in line for an hour.  Trying to keep things light, we rolled down the windows, danced and sang to the soundtrack from Grease.  The time flew by and before we knew it we were on our way.

We stopped at my brother's place for a pit stop, since we had been sitting in the car for an hour and a half by this time!  After inhaling a Wawa dinner, a brief potty run, a diaper change and fervent fare-the-wells, we piled into the car to leave them to pack for their own evacuation.

It took two and a half hours for me to drive what should have been a 20 minute trek to the next Wawa. If you live near Philly and make the regular journey to the Jersey shore, then perhaps you too measure your travels by Wawa instead of mileage?! For instance, our half way mark is the "Wawa in the Woods" at the junction of Routes 347 & 47.

The kids entertained Cupcake with songs and movies while we anxiously looked for the iconic wild goose logo:

Baby soon fell asleep as we rounded a bend and saw the long awaited Wawa sign in the distance! Once we made it through the stop and go traffic, we stopped for a final potty break and it was smooth sailing from there on out. We arrived home a little after 1 am, after having evacuated 71/2 hours earlier!

The next morning I realized I would have to brave the lines at the grocery store too, since we came home to a pretty empty fridge!  Fortunately, I hit it at the end of the stampede, so it only took two hours to stock up and wait in line.

Eye Witness News

For the remainder of the weekend, we kept a watchful eye on all the news regarding the incoming hurricane.  We were convinced, based on the forecast, that our basement would be flooded, and had our power gone out, it would have been disastrous!

In anticipation of the expected flooding we lifted up a lot of our storage items in the basement, piling high the ping pong table, shelves, furniture and pallets. Around midnight, Hubby came up to inform me that if we wanted to save anything in the basement, we would need to bring it up to the first floor. Apparently we had a little waterfall coming through our basement window, so we worked to haul up a few more thing before a pond was created.

I was down in the basement when the sump pump alarm started sounding, very loudly.  Within seconds my feet were getting wet - the french drain and two sump pumps just couldn't keep up with the waterfall. I quickly made my way upstairs, encumbered by the last item I was attempting to salvage.  In a panic, as the water level was rapidly rising, I went looking for Hubby, but I couldn't find him anywhere!

I found myself, yelling into the darkness off the back deck, hoping he was safe out in the torrent and I wouldn't have to call 911. Eventually, he heard me through the wind and rain.  Whatever he had been doing out in the darkness, saved the day and the water started to recede immediately!  My Hero!

Over the course of the day we had been staying informed through various TV channels on tornado warnings, wind speed and rainfall measurements. During the late night watch, however, I had been keeping up to date via facebook, twitter and texts with friends and family that were without power, huddled in basements to avoid tornadoes or using the bucket system to drain the water. The best Eye Witness News I found were the texts and posts of encouragement and information from friends and family.

Eventually, we decided to head to bed, hoping and praying for minimal damage. Amazingly, the next morning it seemed that the most we and others had was a wet basement!  God had really provided for us and protected us throughout the torrential night!

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