Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Digital Snow Day....or Four

I overheard the phrase "digital snow day", and that's what we've had here since Tuesday night at about 10 pm when a huge windstorm  blew zillions of trees down in Anchorage chopping up the electrical grid into a baroque patchwork of haves and have-nots.

Amazingly, there were no deaths and few injuries, probably because the real destruction started about 10 pm on a weeknight. Property damage is another story. Check here for a slideshow. We were extremely lucky here at El Rancho Ptarmigan, given that our lot is all woods, no lawn. Only a couple of small ones down in the woods out back. Next door they were not so lucky.
A big spruce splintered and crashed down on the neighbor's car. The good news: it missed the rv he lives in part-time, and he was away in the car he usually parks beside the black one when he's home. The bad news: the black car was for sale. The dent on the top and the broken windshield mean it's totaled.  The good news: it was insured.

Wednesday morning when you stepped outside your door the sound of chainsaws came from every direction. It seems that 75% of Alaskan households have chainsaws, and the amateur lumberjacks and -jills set to with zeal unblocking roads and clearing yards and driveways. It was astounding how quickly so many trees became firewood.

Because the power outages were caused by so many line breaks, there seemed little logic to which houses were off and which were on. On our street, we were divided right in the middle--the 2 houses on the west came back on at 7 am the next morning, while the 2 on the east including ours were off seemingly forever. This had its jealousy aspects (Why us and not them??  No fair that the vacant house is on!!!) and its good-neighborly aspects. Power for charging batteries and water were near at hand and gladly shared.

And that brings me to the water. In our part of town we get our water from wells, not city water mains. That means that power outages deprive the pumps of electricity and us of H2O for drinking, cooking, coffee, washing, bathing, and--the biggest--FLUSHING. You suddenly realize how much clean water we throw away every day when you have to scrounge enough to fill a toilet tank. We had enough water in our emergency supply to keep us hydrated and to wash a few dishes, but it wasn't till we started hauling from the neighbors that we had any to spare for the plumbing.

It was a weird kind of disaster because it was so hard to tell how long it would go on. The usual power outages are no more than a few hours, and for the first day or so we kept expecting it to come back on at any minute. If we had had an earthquake or a hurricane, we would know to organize and plan for a week or more's worth of hardship. But there was no telling when we'd hear those beautiful beeps, hums, and clicks that means we're back in the 21st century.

We were fortunate in the time of year this occurred. Temperatures were in the 40's - 60's. Had this been January, the house would have frozen solid, with all the damage that a frozen water and heating system would mean. There was a little extra chill in the house, but nothing extra blankets, sweaters, and the fireplace couldn't dispel. The big south-facing windows warmed us up during the day.

The whole experience has been a big emergency preparedness wake-up for us and for the whole city. This was very gentle by disaster standards, and a lot of it was not fun. We live in earthquake country where The Big One will not be forecast by the weatherman, nor will it leave our neighbors unaffected. Here's what I've learned:
  • It was good we had emergency water, lots of batteries, candles and firewood on hand.
  • We need to store more water and have bigger containers.
  • When there's a big windstorm in the forecast, I'm going to duct tape the drains and fill up the bathtubs.
  • We're researching the type of generator necessary to keep the pump and heating going during an outage.
  • It would be a good idea to have a cash stash. When the stores had no power, the only transactions allowed were cash.
  • It was good to be cooking with gas. We at least had the stovetop to heat water and food.
  • A metal bucket would be a good idea. You could wash things in it; you could put it on a wood fire to heat a big quantity of water. 
And what of knitting? This is a knitting blog after all. Without electronic distractions, there was knitting time, but only during daylight hours. I did add 2 1/2 more pairs of booties to the pile. But knitting had to compete with reading for daylight and battery time. Sometimes it lost.

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