The Quest for a Generator

Monday, September 8, the KTRK news shows a major Hurricane by the name of Ike is projected to make landfall on the coast of Texas by the weekend. Although current projections show it landing west of Houston, that still leaves us on the dirty side with strong winds and probable power outages. From the history in the past, our power goes out for periods of a day to a week with any storm. We had witnessed the destruction Katrina wreaked on New Orleans. Hurricane Rita came barreling toward us only 2 weeks later, and when we tried to evacuate we found  ourselves gridlocked in traffic. It was at that point that we decided that an electric generator would be worthy of a quest. A new slogan was born for the Houstonians that were going to shelter in place. We were going to  “Hunker Down” .

We started our research on-line to determine the size and the wattage of generator that would be needed to supply our needs. We researched Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sears, Northern Tool, and Tractor Supply. We tried to order on-line for a pick-up near by, but all generators were already sold out by Tuesday and it would take 7 – 10 days to ship one to Houston. The storm would be here by Friday, three days from now.

Wednesday, Ike takes a slight turn to the north which puts it closer to Houston. The generator becomes even more important in our quest. I send my husband and son out on the quest for the Holy Grail –go and find a generator. We call all the local stores and all are sold out, but Home Depot was expecting a shipment soon. They head overto the first Home Depot in Spring and missed the last generator by 30 minutes. Ron calls and asks me, “Do you really think we need a generator?” I replied, “I have a feeling about this storm, head north to Conroe and see if they have one there”

They drive north to the Conroe Home Depot. The commercial department knows him well there because we just finished our first real estate flip in Conroe. They were sold out but were expecting a shipment soon. As they were walking out the door, a tractor trailer pulled up with a load of generators. Ron returned to the desk and negotiated for one of the 8000 watt generators. The quest complete, the generator was loaded into the back of the pick up with a fork lift and they returned to the castle.

Back at the castle, Ron unloaded the generator with great difficulty, it was extremely heavy. The prized possession was unpacked and directions reviewed. Now the quest turned to finding gasoline to power the generator for a few days. Current calculations estimated 5 gallons would run the generator for 8 -12 hours. We only had three, 5 gallon containers and all stores were already sold out of gas cans.

Thursday, Ike turned again north and was making a bulls-eye toward Galveston and Houston. I made the decision to close the clinic Friday at noon and through Saturday. I then e-mailed all the clients that we would be closing and to get their prescriptions and dog food today or tomorrow morning. The rest of the day was spent finding more supplies to fortify the castle. The local gas stations were already out of gas. I head to Sam’s Club to get more water, batteries and whatever else I need. I made a pit-stop at the bank to make deposits and withdraw cash. The banks will be closing early today and will be closed tomorrow. While atSam’s I see the Humble Fire Department Fire Trucks and ambulance loading supplies into their ambulance.

Humble Fire Department

Humble Fire Department

A sign greets my entrance “We do not have generators or gas cans”. Lines were already long, and shelves were emptying fast. Sam’s was well stocked with water, so I fortified my stores with 4 cases of liter Ozarka. I picked up more milk, cokes, Duct tape, batteries, paper towels and other supplies. Flash lights were gone, but I lucked out in finding some propane bottles to run the camp stove and lanterns.

 

I waited patiently in long lines to check out and bring home my prized possessions. After unloading my supplies, I head to the grocery store to get some more staples. Everyone had the same idea. Every basket was in use in the store and your first quest was a shopping basket. Once a cart was procured, a maze of bewildered shoppers was encountered. The ice was gone, bananas were gone, and the bread was gone. There was plenty of water, so I procured another case. I got more milk, eggs, some plums and other staples, waited in line again and brought home my prized possessions.

Long Lines at Sams Club

Thursday afternoon we spent covering all the equipment at the clinic with plastic bags because our roof already leaked and I feared the leaks would get worse. At the house, we secured all objects in the yard that could be flying debris toward the windows. All patio furniture, garden statues, bird feeders, yard signs, soccer goals, and anything else loose, was locked into our storage shed. Camping gear, such as the cook stove, battery operated fans, lights and the propane lantern were retrieved from the storage shed and brought into the house. I emptied the rain gage and brought in the bird feeders. I then cleaned out the large kennel cab and brought my tame raccoon into the house to weather the storm.

Friday, Ike was already creating havoc on Galveston Island. They projected the entire Island would be under water. The tracking map showed the eye would be passing directly over us. Projected winds were around 75 mph with gusts even higher.

We filled up the generator and I went on another quest to find ice and top off my tank and the gas can.

I went to the clinic to check on the few patients and batten down the hatches there. I had to go to about 5 miles down the road to find an open gas station. No ice, but I was able to top off the tank and get another 5 gallons for the generator.

At home we spent the day watching the news and my son played with his friends. It was truly a beautiful day with pleasant breeze and high clouds. I pulled out the battery operated lamps to load them with batteries, when I discovered that my battery store at the house had been depleted by my son’s toys. I sent Ron back to the clinic to pick up the “ D” batteries I had purchased from Sam’s. We knew the power would be out some time during the night and we were going to wait until the storm passed before pulling out the generator. We watched the television in awe at the destructive winds hitting Galveston and prayed that the storm would loose some of it’s punch by the time it hit us. I was using my cell phone to twitter with my friends and give them updates. I was also twittering with a news reporter from Austin “TrackingIke” that had come here to cover the storm for his newspaper.

Projected Storm Surge

Projected Storm Surge

I had Ron Grill some steaks and burgers early in the afternoon, before the rain hit, so we could eat them later for dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday. I baked some banana bread for breakfast in the morning and a cake for snacks. I knew it would be a while before I could use the stove again. I also washed all the laundry for the same reason. Our first casualty was a burger on the grill. Ron was removing the patty to place it on the plate and gust of wind picked it up and launched across the patio. It was time to head inside.

Soon it was dark and then wind gradually began to increase. We watched in earnest as the reporters showed the intensity of the wind and rain. It would arrive at our house in 4 to 5 hours. We read the final chapters of Harry Potter and the “Deathly Hallows”. We then watched Monk and Psych and turned back to the weather. The rain finally reached us and we decided to try to get some sleep.

We were awakened at 1:00 with the flickering of the lights and then a loud explosion as the transformer behind our house exploded. The last time that happened during a storm, the transformer had burst into flames. I checked out the windows and peered through the rain, but could not see any flames. The power was now out and we had no idea when it would return.

We then got our battery operated fans out to circulate the air and a small battery generator to power Ron’s CPAP (the mask that helps him breathe at night) and tried to get some sleep. I continued to update my friends on twitter and facebook on our status and watched the radar on my blackberry. I stayed up till 4 listening to the house creak and groan and wind whip the trees. The rain pelted the house and vibrated the glass block window in our bathroom. The sound the window made was eerily similar to a crystal glass when your circle your finger around the rim of the glass to make it sing. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and so I went to bed. I put in ear plugs and took my night medication and was oblivious to the storm.

Ron’s small generator ran out of juice shortly after I had come back to bed, so he witnessed the storm’s fury as it hit our house full on. Around 6 am, the eye passed over our house. The relative calm was misleading, but it presented enough time to let the dog do his duty and for Ron to check for any damages. As suddenly as the wind had stopped, the wind gusted full fury once more as the eye’s back side came across our yard.

For several more hours, the rain and wind pelted the house.I woke up mid-morning and snapped some pictures of the front and back yards and uploaded them to facebook and let everyone know we were safe. We called my mom and our neighbors to let them know we were fine.Shortly there after, my phone battery died followed by AT & T service and the cable service. We were without power and now we were with out internet and phone services.

When the rain slowed down, we ventured out of the house and surveyed the damage. Our property lost a few trees but none had landed on the house. Tree limbs, leaves and debris were strewn everywhere. As we went down the street, trees were down everywhere. Several were on top of the houses and several through the roofs. Nearly half of all the fences were also down. We passed the church and their covered walk way was gnarled in a twisted piece of aluminum. Just past the church was a storage center. The outer brick wall had collapsed, the roof stripped off, exposing the boats and RV’s that were once sheltered there. I am sure that the collapse was in part due to faulty construction, because we had seen a crack in that wall previously and they attempted to repair it by bolting plates at the corners to support the wall. As we ventured the short half mile to my clinic, many trees were laid down, partially blocking the road. Houses that lined the cleared pasture across the street from my clinic, suffered major damage from downed trees that seemed to have broken 5 feet above the ground and were laid down on top of the houses. The whole line of fence along the pasture was down. Apparently, the cleared area allowed the wind to whip across and came full force on the exposed houses. The trees surrounding our house more than likely kept the wind from damaging our house.

We went into the clinic to asses the damages there. On entry, there was standing water at the door. Damaged ceiling tile revealed the leak at the front of the building. Several more leaks were found but the equipment was not damaged. My employees had brought the dogs boarding at the clinic to their homes during the storm and the only critters left were the fostered cats that need to find homes and my fish aquarium. With out the filter system running, the water was already getting cloudy and I knew if I did not get them out of that tank, they would probably be dead soon. I netted the fish out of the tank into a container and brought them home to our larger 90 gallon tank at home.

We secured the clinic and headed home.

Once the home, we hauled the generator out of the garage and placed it on the back porch. We ran extension cords to the refrigerator, the fans and 1 light. We heated the hamburgers we had cooked the previous day and ate them for lunch. We had filled the bathtub with water and had to bail water out of the tub to flush the toilets. I hauled the portable TV out of the guest bedroom and brought it into the living room and plugged it in. Our cable was out, so we relied on rabbit ears to receive a signal. The cell phone signals had also been out since early in the morning. We had no way to call out, receive calls or access the internet. Ironic that the FEMA officials want you to call or access the internet to get help. How can some one call or get on the internet when you don’t have power, phone service or internet access? I later learned that FEMA had taken over the cell phone service. Again, how can you get help if you can’t call?

We watched in awe at the immense damage done in the South side of the city. Our damage was minimal compared to the rest of the city. We had power, food and water. We had enough to get by for the next few days. This was in due to our preparation and persistence in finding a generator to use. The ice maker on our refrigerator was jammed. Further inspection revealed that the ice had melted and when we turned on the refrigerator, it had re-frozen. We chipped it free and put it in zip lock bags and placed it back in the freezer. With out the well running, even though the ice maker was running, we did not have water to make more ice. The ice will be a commodity to be rationed. We then had to change around a few extension cords to run electricity to the freezer and pulled out the plug to the microwave and heated up some frozen dinners. We place a few fans in the house and put in a DVD and watched a movie as we finally retired for the night.

A few hours later, the generator ran out of gas and Ron had to get up and fill it, and re-start it. I had taken some melatonin and had ear plugs and slept well through the night.

Sunday, September 14, 2008. The temperature had actually cooled during the night with the movement of more thunderstorms through the area. We were awakened by a neighbor that had come by to check on us. Since we had no phone or internet, they were worried. Once assured that we were, Ok, they went back to take care of their downed trees. I checked the rain gage and it topped out at another six inches of rain during the night. We probably have received over 18 inches in the last 48 hours.

I felt like waffles for breakfast. I had to unplug the freezer to plug in the waffle iron, but we were able to make fresh waffles to start out the morning. Those waffles tasted really good.We had the fans running and it was fairly comfortable in the house. We did not have any running water, so a quick sponging off was all we could muster for the morning. Our generator needed some oil to continue running, so we ventured out of the house for another quest. I video taped the damage as we went to search for oil. Many trees were down, fences down and some of the trees were down across the road. We finally came across a strip center that was open. The liquor store had a generator and was doing a booming business. The corner store was open and people were collecting some staples. There was no ice or bread, but they did have our coveted oil. With no electricity, we had to use cash for our purchase. We had to turn around and head back due to a tree in the road and wanted to check for further damage and see how high the creek was.

The local creek had crested out of its banks and had flooded the horse ranch that sat next to the creek. This has happened at least 4 times since we have lived there. I had them on Thursday as they evacuated the horses.Years earlier, this creek had flooded and reached the local elementary school. At the moment the horse ranch and Cypresswood Golf course were completely submerged. It was at least 10 feet over its banks.We turned around at that point, not wanting to venture far from home. We then went to check on our neighbors.

Our best friend, Kay, had been alone. Her husband was on a business trip in Indianan. He was headed home. He had to fly to Dallas and rent a car to drive to Houston since both airports are closed. She only suffered one tree limb breakage and was with out power, water and phone.

We then went to check on our neighbor who had come by earlier that morning. His neighbor’s trees were down in the yard and on top of the houses. He had a chain saw and was helping out with trimming trees. His wife is a nurse and had spent the last two days at Memorial Hospital and was now at home for a few days and will have to return on Tuesday. Their house almost flooded when a fence blocked the water from draining their yard. He had to get a hammer and removed the lower boards to release the blockage to keep his house from flooding. He had his brother coming in from Austin with some more chain saws, ice and supplies. Many more trees were twisted, fractured and splintered. As we left the neighborhood, we watched as neighbor helped neighbor get the trees off the houses and clearing their yards.

We returned home and drained the oil from the generator, refilled it with gas and oil and started it back up again. We have a window unit air conditioner in the garage that we are tempted to move to the bedroom, but the temperature is tolerable and we need to conserve the electricity for more pressing items.

Monday,

Still no phone service, cable, power or internet service. I tried to e-mail my mom a message that we were ok. I do not know if it got through. I down loaded the video I shot during and after the storm and started to write this story while it is fresh in my mind. I went to the clinic to see if we had power. Nothing. I edited the note on the door that we would re-open when the power is restored.I had the empty gas tanks in the back of the truck and went to search for gas. I travelled nearly 20 miles before I found some stations with power, However, about a hundred other people were there before me. I at least finally had a signal on my cell, so I parked in the Church parking lot and made a few phone calls. After talking to my mom and my daughters, I then called AT&T and tried to convince them to get the generator out to the cell tower in our back yard. I even called the local Radio Station to see if they had any pull.

Tuesday, still no power. We had run out of gas for the generator at 7 am. It was a wonderful morning. The air was crisp and cool. The back yard was silent except for the birds singing. We opened the storage shed and pulled out the patio furniture. I pulled out the camp stove and fried some bacon and made pancakes and we ate on the back porch. Ron tried to siphon gas out of the trucks, but we soon discovered the anti-siphon device to prevent you from doing so. Ron crawled under the truck in an attempt to find another way to drain the gas with Russell eager to help. Unfortunately, while under the truck, Russell encountered a fire ant mound. Ron had to drag him out from under the truck and we had to strip his shirt off and get the ants off.He already had bites all over his arm that were whelping up. I had to give him some anti-histamine and put cortisone cream on the bites. So much for the beautiful day.Ron and Russell then drove to Conroe to clean up the debris on our flip property. The turbines on the house had flown into the neighbor’s yard. Once retrieved, they were put back on and some of the tree limbs were cut up and the yard cleaned up. I stayed home and washed the dishes and took care of the critters. I then settled into my recliner and read a book. Robin Cook’s thriller, “Foreign Body”, the sequel to “Marker”.

Ron and Russell had the gas cans with them but there were only 2 gas stations open on the freeway with lines hours long with police having to direct the traffic.

When the boys came home, we made a snack and went on another quest for gas. The corner gas station across the street from the clinic finally got power and cars were stretched down the street. The clinic still didn’t have power. We headed into to Humble and decided to try the gas station by the airport. There were only a dozen cars in this line so we decided to go ahead and wait. I picked up a few candy bars as we filled the cans with gas. At $3.89 a gallon and taking 14 gallons a day to have power, it may be cheaper to actually stay in a hotel. If I can find one that takes the raccoon, ferret, squirrel, dog and the birds, we may just do that next time. God, don’t let there be a next time. We watched the news in awe of the surge destruction in Galveston.We counted our blessings that our family and friends were doing well.

The generator for the cell tower finally showed up Wednesday morning and everyone finally had cell service.

I need to get my clients to sign a petition to get the cell tower people to get the generator there quicker when the power is out. I don’t know if it will help, but I can at least try. I made some bacon and waffles for breakfast and finished my second book. A Dick Francis novel, “Silks”. (A review of “Silks” is posted at my bookstore-www.DebbiesBestBooks.com)

I went to the clinic to see if power was on. While there I had a couple of clients stop by to pick up dog food. Without power, I wasn’t able to look up prices, so I just had to write their names down and rely on the honor system to return when the power is on. I am anxious to hear their tales of Hurricane Ike and will post this on the blog and they can comment with their experiences.I attempted to get the internet working on my lap top with my ATT air card. When I finally got it working, it was so slow, I finally gave up. I checked in with my mom and daughters. My granddaughter in Baton Rouge had an allergic reaction to some eye drops over the weekend, but she is fine now. They are still recovering from Gustav. Then some bad news came from my oldest daughter. They were still with out power and the only way I could contact her was through texting. That is how I heard that my son-in-law’s grandmother had fallen last Monday and had broken her foot. No one found her until the next day. During the surgery to repair her foot, she suffered a heart attack and is not expected to survive. It took a week for them to find out about her accident. Communications during disasters definitely needs to be improved.

We went out to find a place to eat for dinner. The power was spotty. One street would have power and the next block was pitch black. Driving down a major road, it was so dark that you couldn’t see that there were traffic lights for some of the intersections. Some people would stop and others would fly right through the intersection. We finally nixed the idea of eating out and head back to the house for a safe haven.

Jake

Jake

I cooked some frozen dinners for the boys by unplugging the freezer to plug in the microwave. We then stayed up and watched “The night at the Museum” with a fan in the window to cool us down.Hopefully the power will be up tomorrow. If not. I may have to try to and drag the generator to the clinic.

Thursday, we still have no power at the house or the clinic. Now we have the generator from the cell tower and our generator grinding in the back yard. The only time we have a little quiet is when we run out of gas and the generator has to be turned off to be re-filled.

Ron made breakfast this morning. He burned the bacon, but redeemed himself by baking biscuits in the grill.

I had some service to the internet and had an idea of making some “Hunker Down” cups and caps to sell on line at our Café Press store. We brainstormed some logos and played with photoshop to get it just right. I uploaded the photos and opened a shop.

Hot and sticky, I checked in with my daughter in Conroe.
They have running water and a gas water heater, so Russell and I head over to visit her and take a refreshing shower. While visiting, I learned that Matt’s Grandmother had passed away. The funeral will be next week because all the funeral homes are also closed.

We have to leave before it gets dark because there are still some roads with out traffic lights. We survey the damage on the way. Gas stations with no covers, trees down everywhere, billboards fallen on top of an apartment complex. Sections along the freeway did have power and some stores were starting to re-open. We pass a Hartz Chicken Store that was open and pick up some hot chicken and rolls. The Dominoes Pizza had pulled in one of their mobile units and was serving pizza. The parking lot was packed as weather weary residents ventured out for a hot meal. Back at the house, we filled up the buckets with water for the toilets, put an a DVD and head to bed.

Friday, tree trimmers filled our driveway. A couple of trees were on our power lines and these guys from another state that came down here to clear the lines.They heard our generators running and had to check and make sure we were not “hard lined” into the breaker box. If we were, when they trimmed the trees, the line could be hot and cause problems when they connect the line. Our generator was connected to the appliances with extension cords so it was a green light for them to do the trimming.

Encouraged, I made another trip to the clinic to check for power. Nada. I sold another bag of dog food and packed up all the refrigerated vaccines and drugs to bring to the house and get them back into refrigeration. Now our refrigerator was brimming with supplies from the clinic, making it a wee bit difficult to find the food, but at least I have a working refrigerator.

After unloading the supplies from the clinic to our refrigerator, I visit the local store to see if they have any fresh supplies. Kroger was well stocked with produce, bread and meat, but they were in the process of trashing all the frozen dinners and food that were in the refrigerator cases. What a waste. I picked up some milk and other supplies and head back to the house.

By the early evening, our power returns. A wave of relief washes over me. Things may actually get back to some semblance of normalcy. We turn off the generator, roll up the extension cords traversing the house and one by one plug in the appliances, and turn on the air-conditioner. The windows are shut and the noise of the cell tower generator is now muffled. Anxious to get on the internet to work on my blogs, Ron attempts to get the cable connected, only to find that Comcast is experiencing technical difficulties in the area. I work on my “Hunker Down” products and make a google ad. I put some of the products on Twitter and Facebook and post them on the blog. By midnight I had sold 2 mugs and a T-shirt. I need to sell about 5000 to make up for our lost income. That night I dreamed of selling a million mugs and caps, and donating a million dollars to the Hurricane Ike relief fund and the Houston SPCA.That would be too cool.

Friday night was the best I have slept in a whole week. We had planned on getting up a little early and head to the clinic and set up the generator if we didn’t have power. I finally roust my self from the bed and take a hot shower. It felt wonderful. Once at the clinic, I find the shopping center is still void of electricity. The Donut shop next door had a generator yesterday, but was now closed. With no one open in the center and no way to contact any of my clients because they still had no electricity, we decided to close up and try again on Monday.

This was supposed to be a video diary, but due to technical difficulties, ie, no cable for fast internet connection, I am unable to upload the videos. I will add them in later.

 

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