This will be a really poorly done blog post, and I apologize for that. I am trying to upload photos and get Google Blogger to run, and it's not going smoothly. But we'll try to see if we can get something out.
We’ve just experienced the violent weather of another tropical hurricane. Takes a little while to shake that experience off. These things are intense. Now the recovery phase begins.
We’ve taken a few photos, but they don’t look like our typical sunny tropical environment snapshots. Hurricanes seem to turn the world around them into some pretty severe gray scales. We have had no internet connection to upload photos. In fact we’re now into our second day without town power or internet. We run our portable generator about an hour or so several times a day to keep the fridge/freezer cold and to run the water pump. The cisterns at level full, so water is not a problem. I guess I should say that the LACK of water is not a problem. Water itself, well, I know you’ve heard the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’. We’re familiar with that. We’re scruffy, exhausted and grumpy from getting no sleep for two nights. Our ears are still ringing from the loud incessant noise of it all.
Today the internet is in and out, and we are still running our portable generator for power. I attached a piece of tubing to the gasoline line in the skiff, so we have about sixteen gallons of gasoline. If we run the generator on a schedule, we can go awhile. I would imagine the power company should have the electricity back on within a day or so, after a piddling little storm like this one. Listen to me now, eh? Now that it's all over and we know we made it through. I was a lot more anxious just before dawn this morning. Some noises are louder than others. They distinguish themselves in your imagination. "Oh, was that the roof I just heard? Or maybe just the barbeque grill hitting the Land Rover." You know how silly one can get during these stressful times.
At dawn I crawled down around the edge of the house, keeping in the lee and out of the wind. It was still blowing really hard. In fact the roughest winds we got were around 04:30 in the morning. Believe it or not, this IS a sunrise photo.
We lost power at 03:30, and I waited until daylight to see if it was safe to open the garage door. I was creeping around with a camera. Not much to see at that time of the morning. The quality of the photos is because of the low light to a large extent, but also it was impossible to hold the camera still in the buffeting winds. We were still seeing winds in the 80 mph range at dawn. And water. The air was filled with water. These are the little rocky hills down on the water that are usually in the foreground of our sunrise photos. Nice, eh I think the tanning index on this one was a negative three digits. I'll show you what it does to paint in a few minutes.
I had managed to get the generator started up and a power cord run to the house. We had the coffee maker going, at least. I was having trouble getting the house to run on it though. I waited for a little more daylight, and fortified with several thousand milligrams of fresh caffeine, then I went out troubleshooting.
This is what could be called a 'bracing' morning excursion. Those columns of water are the overflows from the two cisterns. They are level full. No water shortages today, by golly.
And with the amazing miracle of stop-action flash photography, I can show you electrically minded folks why I was having some issues with hooking the generator up to the house.
The fractured stream on the left next to the PVC pipe is being shredded by the wind. The stream on the right is bigger, and just slightly tucked out of the main wind. It was just a matter of angle. But notice what the solid stream on the right is doing. It's splashing on the top of the irrigation system's air tank, and the water is going into the open circuit breaker box. The plastic lid has broken in the wind, and the box blows open. Aha. This, I can work around.
While I was working my way down to the garage and trying to hook the house up, La Gringa managed to shoot some video. This is on the protected, landward side of the house, just after dawn. The buttonwood trees are being shredded even as we watch:
Music is 'Juan Loco' by Rodrigo y Gabriela
I am not going to bore you with all the little details of how we spent the rest of this morning. Mostly trying to stop leaks. Water was blowing horizontally through large parts of our home's interior airspace. And getting into things we would rather have kept dry. You know how these pesky hurricanes can be. Danged inconvenient at times. Every single time, come to think of it.
Looking out at Juba Salina, you can see that our only road out of here is under about two feet of water at this end. Unfortunately, if it's two feet deep here at our rocky end, we know it's between three and four feet deep at the lowest spot a few miles up the road. No sense in driving the Land Rover through this. We're stranded, without power, internet, or sat tv. We can run the generator and the cell phones still work. We know we can't get out, so we don't even try. Driving in this stuff is really bad for the truck. This is sea water.
We took a lot of photos of the same subjects over and over. These rocks were a little easier to see now that the sky had lightened up and the rain diminished. The winds were still howling, though. It was very difficult to walk upright anywhere except immediately up against the protection of the downwind side of the house.
Guess what this stuff is?
It's a handful of the shredded leaves of the buttonwood hedge that is standing off in the distance in this photo. Most of the leaves are gone from these. The wind stripped them off and beat them to a pulp as they circulated around and around the patio for hours before being thrown out over here into this pile:
The storm peaked passed at its closest point at 2 in the morning, but we got the strongest winds here later than that. We were seeing winds of 98 mph at 4 AM. It was an interesting day. I didn't say it was a fun one. We’ve changed into dry clothes three or four times in the past twenty four hours, and I don’t know if there are many dry shirts or towels in the house right now. They’re soaked through, and scattered all over the floor, and jammed into windows and the bottom of sliding glass doors. A lot of our wardrobe got drafted as weather caulking. This is a good time to note one’s least favorite t-shirts. Those seem to be the ones I grab without hesitation when I need to jam something up against a leaking louver. This storm blew a lot of water horizontally with considerable force. We were dealing with the water all night.
Nobody I know could have slept through all those howling, rumbling, shrieking and whistling noises that a hurricane produces. If you’ve never ridden out a hurricane while stranded and isolated in a dark house in the middle of a tropical night…. my advice would be to avoid it.
We started preparing the day before the storm, and were still stashing loose objects and securing shutters as the winds increased throughout that afternoon and last night. Irene tracked just a few miles to the south of us and was at her closest early this morning. We didn’t sleep through it. This was a real one. It was a Category Two here, with winds of 100 mph. We have since heard that it was intensifying as it passed us, and it was a Category Three as it left here. That fits in exactly with our own experience, and explains why the winds were stronger two hours after it passed at it's closest point. It was growing. We knew all this was coming, of course. The nervous anticipation is a big part of the experience. There was no way to avoid it, there’s really not too many places to run to on a small island. The Providenciales International Airport was closed as the storm approached so hopping a flight out wasn’t even an option. It's still closed as I am writing this. We know there are a lot of stranded people here who thought they were flying home in the last couple of days. Extended vacations abound. With a good excuse.
I had mentioned how hard the water was blowing. We are finding these spots all along the windward side of the house. The wind and water basically just pressure washed the paint right off.
It was strange to feel that the day had turned nice when the wind velocity dropped down to around 50 mph. This lizard had been taking shelter behind the stump of the light that was actually a victim of Hurricane Hanna back three years ago. We have still not replaced these lights. We have about 20 fixtures that were destroyed. We have not been able to find anything that we like the looks of that we also think will survive these conditions. These particular lights were falling apart within six months of being installed. We won't make that mistake again.
The plants are all trashed, of course. 75% or more defoliation. I had to walk around looking to find even the remnants of a single bougainvillea blossom. And this was on the protected side of the house.
At one point I thought it would be some silly fun to try to film a mock Corona beer video. It wouldn't work. We did manage to get this still shot of the beer bottle there in the 'tropical environment' background....
But the truth of the matter is that the bottle wouldn't stay there for even a few seconds. If you look at the background you can see we were still in the storm at this point. I was just out of camera view staying close enough to grab it when a gust of wind started blowing it toward the edge. I had to pin it down until La Gringa was ready to take a photo. But the moment I took my hand away, it started going walkabout.
So we abandoned the Corona beer commercial idea. I think cabin fever must have been setting in at this point.
And just when we would start to be able to convince ourselves that the wind was dying down, another stronger gust would come roaring through as bad as anything else we had seen. A band of rain would blow through stinging any exposed skin like frozen sleet. And the visibility would close right down again.
At mid morning we had the highest storm surge. I've already shown you one photo of the flooded road. This is a photo across the flooded salina looking at the Caicos Boatyard and Marina. The big white boat is one of the local live-aboard dive boats, that is too big for the local equipment to lift it out of the water. The water in this photo is only about a foot or so below the level of the dock. This was a close one. The good news is that the maximum storm surge peaked at low tide. If it had come six hours later it would have been a whole 'nuther level of aggravation around here.
I was really encouraged to look at this image closely, because I can see a whole bunch of sailboat masts in that photo. The good news is that they are all upright this time. I think the guys at the boatyard learned a few things during Hanna and Ike. Remember, until 2008, the last serious storm that had hit Providenciales was Hurricane Donna in 1960. We had two generations of Turks Islanders living here who had never experienced a hurricane. Well, that's all changed now. We've been through three of them here, now. We'll stop by the boatyard later and see if they had any damage, once the flood drains and we can get out of here.
I want to get this uploaded while the internet is still working, so I won't take a lot of time to edit or proofread it. We could be dead in the water, internet wise, any moment. We're taking the truck out and driving around the island today and will get some more photos for one more installment and then we'll hopefully be done with this Hurricane Irene experience.
During one of the lighter periods between rain bands I managed to get this photo of the rocks. It was one of the better still shots. You can almost tell that the white frothy top parts of the breaking waves are being ripped off the water in a single big sheet that instantly gets shredded and vaporized and blown horizontally along the ground. This is the stuff that was shredding leaves, peeling paint, and stinging exposed skin. Hopefully you can see that entire wave tops were being lifted.
And once the winds had died down enough that a camera would stay upright on a tripod we managed to shoot a little video of the same scene:
Music is 'On Your Marks' by Lymbyc System
We've got some other videos, but those will have to wait for the next installment.
And then hopefully we can get back to our laid back tropical island story. We're ready for that part.