Thursday, August 12, 2010
This latest storm hit at 7 am, with a fury that I had only seen once before: seven years ago when my house nearly burned down after a lightning strike. I watched out the kitchen window as wind and rain circled our patio and thunder and lightning rolled and crashed around us. After about 20 minutes, the storm seemed to lessen, and I tried to calm my daughter by saying the worst was over. But it wasn't. The second phase was stronger, more virulent than the first. The wind created waves in our swimming pool, sloshing water over the edge. I can't really remember when the power went out, only thinking that I wasn't surprised. In all, the storm lasted 50 minutes, unusually long. There were no loud crashes on our house, no leaks in the roof. But when it subsided and I looked out the kitchen window, I saw a tree a few houses down the hill cleaved in two. To the left, the large oak in our neighbor's yard that my wife always feared would someday fall on us was also a casualty - but it fallen away from us, onto another neighbor's deck.
This was the third time in as many weeks that destructive storms struck the Washington area. Last week, while we were in Charlottesville, a freak storm hit Old Town Alexandria. This time, there were reports of motorists being rescued from flood waters along Rock Creek in the District and Sligo Creek in Silver Spring. Local radio and newspaper reports featured an apartment building in Gaithersburg that was sliced in two by a large oak, miraculously with no one hurt.
There was little or no coverage of our neighborhood. But as I grabbed my camera and walked around our little enclave of Burnt Mills, I felt as though I was in a war zone. Hundreds of trees had been split or felled by the strong winds. A house around the corner on Oakwood Drive was crushed by an uprooted oak, another damaged by a fallen fir. Utility poles were snapped in two, chunks of asphalt were torn from the streets, and up at the elementary school, so many trees were decapitated that it looked as though a giant had ripped a hole in the woods. These trees were splayed across Colesville Road, the only way to get out of our neighborhood, closing it in both directions for hours. There was no way I would get to work this day.
As I walked around, I took photos of every broken tree I saw, even though they all began to look alike after awhile. I was amazed that more houses weren't damaged, and that, when all was told, apparently no one in our neighborhood was hurt. It was as if God was angry, but not vengeful.
Friday, August 13
Shaving and dressing without light is almost routine now after the first storm kept us out of power for four days. The damage this time seems more intense, so we think it may take longer to restore electricity, but the damage is more localized than two weeks ago when the entire county was devastated, so maybe there is hope. Colesville Road was open, so I could get to work, and when I came home there were crews from Toledo Edison in our neighborhood untangling downed wires and replacing fallen poles and transformers. A PEPCO damage survey crew drove by. Yet when we returned from dinner at a friend's house, the neighborhood was still dark, and the thrum of generators drowned out the crickets and cicadas. My wife swears never to stock the freezer again. Our daughter wonders why we can't just buy a generator like all the noisy neighbors.
Saturday, August 14
Walking around the neighborhood this morning, the progress in cleaning up is evident. Trees have been chainsawed into sections, damaged homes covered with blue tarp like bandages over boo boos. I traded anecdotes with a neighbor I had never met, who told me one of the storm's victims was a 400-year old oak tree that was one of the oldest in Maryland. I had walked by that tree hundreds of times since moving to this neighborhood without realizing its history or significance.
The Toledo Edison crews arrived at 8:30. The crew captain told me our lights should go on "Before we leave here tonight."
Indeed, the power tripped on just before 3 pm. Only 56 hours this time. Given the destruction around us, we feel lucky. The neighbor's oak will have to go; the half that leans toward our house is now precariously supported by less than half a trunk.
Although our power was back on, we still went to my mother-in-law's for dinner. I'm tasting Chablis this week, so I pulled four bottles from the warm fridge. They tasted wonderful. Note to self: Chill Chablis really well, then leave in a turned-off refrigerator for 56 hours to attain the perfect temperature.