Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene, Part 2

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.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are coming back. Right after a storm you are so overwhelmed and wonder what can I do. Then you start and just keep doing and it is eventually done. It took me 6 months after Hurricane Rita to get the room repaired that a tree went into and to burn 16 gallons of gasoline in a chain saw cutting up the trees in the front yard. Remember the good things.

Anonymous said...


amazing experience and presence of mind to capture it all. Plus retaining your sense of humor. Awesome.

Looks scary as hell that rain blowing horizontally. Almost super natural.

How was poor Dooley, hope there was some sort of doggy ear muffs or something. Can't imagine him handling the constant nose. Maybe sound proof a bathroom or closest if and when there is another one?

Nevertheless great post and pictures and retelling for us clueless as to what it looks like and must be like to be in the middle of one.

Caitlyn said...

Thank you for the update! So glad you're ok... and if you're ok our friends must be ok.

If you do get out down the road in the truck, can you try to take pics of the little house on stilts on Juba Lane as you pass? It's our friends' house and we own the land next to it. Or should I say "the lake next to it."

All the best!!!

Anonymous said...

Very glad to know that you guys came through it unharmed, great pictures and videos.

We get to go through this tomorrow night and looks like it will push it to a Cat.3 here.

The main difference for me is that I have been through every on here since Hazel in 52 and we will sit this one out here also.

All the best and pray I can finally get the generator running by tomorrow night.

See ya,
Gottafly :)

rumblewagen said...

Glad you guys made it through ok. Storm damage can be fixed, you needed more "DIY in the Caribbean" anyway!

PaleMoonDove said...

We have been checking and checking to see if you were ok and back very glad you both are ok...did Dooley hide???
We are getting Irene tomorrow night in Virginia...sigh..our turn.
Hope the clean up doesn't take too long...take care
Doll (&Capt'n too)

Jan O said...

Very glad to see you guys are ok. Know what it's like...I went through the cyclone which destroyed the town of Darwin on Christmas eve 1974 and I can STILL remember the sound of the wind. Something you never forget I think!
Best wishes from Jan O Newman WA

Didier said...

You are wet, but you are safe ! This post is scary, but I think nothing scares you in Caïcos ! Here in France, 50 mm of rain water and two lightnings = red alert and two days without internet !!!
Time for you now to sleep complete nights and dry the house. And what about Dooley the Valorous ? Did he buy a ticket to come back to States ?

Amitiés de France.

Hans said...

Big WOW, amazing pictures which bring it as close to us as possible. Didier is right when he is saying that we in Europe would by no means stand anything like this, no training.

Good to know that you are safe.

All the best from Germany

Anonymous said...

Delighted that you're all safe and many thanks for the blog.

By far the best source of detailed info on what goes on in Provo.

My boat is in the yard there and from your photo it looks as though it wasn't blown over but fingers are still crossed.

Thanks again - Dave

Coop said...

Glad to hear you made it through... We are next in Irene's Crosshairs... NJ isn't use to this type of weather, so its should be interesting.

I am really glad I decided to trailer my boat this year!

jeeperman said...

Yeah your okay.
When Ivan hit us, there was a lot of beach sand mixed with the water blowing off the wave tops.
Thus hydro-sandblasting the paint off of everything along the shore.
It is amazing how many spots wind blown water will come in thru.
Even more weird when you get water intrusion at 50mph but then later it stops when the wind is at 90mph.

Anonymous said...

thank you for all the happy thoughts and good wishes. We got power back late last night, and have discovered that we have a bit more cleaning up to do than we thought. When you keep making adjustments and changes every few minutes for days, you tend to forget just how many little things you did. But then at the end of it, you have days worth of stuff that now needs undoing. That's where we are today. Damage evaluation and control. Cleanup.
Little things like unwedging the iron from behind the garage door. Returning the boat's fuel system to normal. Washing and drying. Mopping. Moving patio furniture back outside. Listening to the dog explain why he feels that the trauma of going through this experience justifies him getting cheddar cheese with breakfast....

We plan to get out and about a little later. All in all this part of the Turks and Caicos Islands was lucky on this one. It dropped in intensity just before getting here, and then accelerated as it was leaving. So I am guessing that Grand Turk, Salt Cay, and this side of Providenciales got the worst of it in terms of ferocity. West Caicos likely got clobbered, but there's nothing there but semi-built structures. Did I tell you we sailed the Hobie Tandem Island to West Caicos and back just last Saturday? Seems like years ago, now.

Anonymous said...

Gringo, glad to see you all are safe! I have a request, could you post one of the videos of the storm without the soundtrack? Would like to hear the real audio from the storm as you heard it. Thanks.

Now it's our turn here in Maryland.

Dunkirk, MD

Jon said...

Hi ya Gringo,
Thanks for the post. Glad to read you came thru alright, albeit a little frazzeled.

I can relate. Like "Gottafly" above, I've also been through some Cat 3's down in coastal NC. Irene will be paying me a visit soon as well here on the Chesapeake Bay. Thanks for the videos of the whoop'n I'm about to recieve.

Incidentally, "Gottafly" mentioned Hazel in '52. That means he's a coastal Carolina boy and there's a nice fella who runs "Gottafly" guide service out of Bridge Tender Marina at Wrightsville Beach. If that's you Capt. Lee,,, you take care and batten down.

Anonymous said...

Well, here's the situation. First the bad news. We commonly button these camera up to be waterproof when we leave the house because we are heading to someplace where they are likely to get wet. So we're gone with them all day without any way to recharge them. I figured out that by turning the instant review function off (the one that shows you the photo you just took) and turning the sound recording off, we could get more battery life out of a charge. And this was the way the Olympus was still set up during the storm. I didn't realize we were not getting the audio until I uploaded the videos to the laptop much later. Dang it.

Now the good news. For some of the outside stuff the GoPro was clamped to the little patio wall, and it was recording audio. I did one battery charge load ( about two hours) of time lapse at a frame/ten seconds. Then while we were playing with the Corona beer bottle, the GoPro was recording that. So it's not the noise at the height of the storm, inside the house in the dark listening to the whistles and shrieks and roaring, but it is some audio the next morning with 80 mph winds going on. We have those videos and some more stuff to wade through and edit. I'll plan on one more little Irene follow up and put all the misc stuff in that one.

Then we can get back to our regularly scheduled program about how freakin' WONDERFUL it is to live on a small tropical island.....

Anonymous said...

GLad ya'll are safe and everything came out OK(for the most part).


Anonymous said...

Looks like the beer stayed cold. Thank goodness!

d_pattee said...

Good to hear you're alright, hope we do as well. The outerbands are starting to hit us now. The hurricane center has the eye going directly over our house sometime early tomorrow morning as a Cat 3. Being about 6' above sea level, flooding is usually more of a concern than the winds. If you look on Google Earth, Harkers Island, NC is what I can see from my front door. From past experience, we're also the last to get electricity, so it could up to a week depending on how much damage there is. DaveDownEast

jskbar said...

glad to see you made it, a friend's wife found your blog and sent it to me. We live in Dallas and own a lot on Longbay. My boat is at that marina ( reaches me. would love to visit.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see u are OK. I feel your pain.We are in the gulf coast of Mississippi We had 4 ft of water in our cabin during Katrina. Takes time, but things will look better in a few years! (Leo-Hobie tandem in Dune)

thepiratedoc said...

Brother-in-law and his wife were on Middle Caicos for the storm. Now back home in Wilmington NC ... for the same storm! We bugged out from NC's Crystal Coast due to a prior commitment or we'd be enjoying the endless rain and wind as well. This is why we were in Provo in APRIL! lol Glad ya'll (incl Dooley)are safe.