Disclaimer, trying to accurately recount the events of the last 5 days with steadfast accuracy is beyond the scope of my current memory limitations. I’ll do the best that I can.
So the first morning after Irma was one of assessment. Not only did we want to do a full assessment of the damage on our property but also news on how our area in general did. Normally the internet would be our primary way of doing this, followed by TV. With no power and my OTA tv antenna hanging off the side of the shed those options were off the table. In addition both my and Cindy’s phone had absolutely no service. Our only real source of info was our battery powered radio.
The word that was used most to describe the situation was “lucky”. Although the wind had caused humongous power outages and damage, the luck was referring to the lack of storm surge which could have pretty much obliterated the coastline. As we reviewed our property I guess I felt lucky in a lot of ways. Repeatedly to others I have described our damage as significant but not catastrophic. The fact that the coop survived was really a bright spot for me in this big mess that was now in front of us.
So Monday we spent mostly just taking down the various protections we installed around the house. We put a lot of work into boarding up and battening down the hatches and the same if not more amount of work putting it away.
Cindy could hardly wait for me to get the coop opened up so we could get the chickens out of the garage. Their two nights indoors was not much fun for them or for us. Monday I did my first of many, many comfort increasing efforts. I figured out how to get the house RO water system running off the generator. It did take some trial and error to get there.
I used an accessory that connected to the 220v twist lock outlet on the generator. On the other end of the cord is a four outlet box, two 220v outlets and two 110 outlets. Well I discovered that if I tried to connect a 220v and 110v item simultaneously, the 110v circuit was sent 220 volts. I damaged the UPS in the chicken coop and smoked a triple tap adapter and likely the LED spotlight before I realized what was going on.
However once I figured out that little detail we had clean usable water through every faucet in the house which was awesome. We could flush toilets, take showers, and do anything else water related with a few extra steps. To run the RO requires two 220V circuits. One is used to power the well which gets water into the RO system. The second circuit drives the pump that provides pressure to the house itself.
I discovered that if both of these pumps were running simultaneously for any prolonged period of time it would pop the circuit breaker on the generator. The workaround has been to run only one or the other. When the water in the holding tank is low I plug in the well pump. Once the 300 gallon tank is full I unplug the well and plug in the other line, delivering pressure to the house.
Cindy was cautiously happy about my success with the water equipment. She went through the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and dealt with a complete lack of services for weeks. She expressed concern repeatedly that powering the water equipment would consume too much power. I assured her that it would be fine.
My neighbor from Michigan next door had no generator. As I was outside working on the big one I told him that we could run a line from our generator to his place to give him power to run a fan, their refrigerator and a few other things. I figured it was not a huge deal as I also had my smaller Honda generator going to provide power inside the house, I had juice to spare.
So on Monday basically everything in the area was closed. I didn’t even bother to go out trying to find gas. I had 15 gallons to get me going, I figured I would start the gas search on Tuesday. It was really frustrating having no phone service. We could not call/text anyone to let them know we were ok outside of very brief and predictable moments where we may see a single bar of service come and then go. We made some good progress on Monday doing the initial wave of clean up.
So on Tuesday we headed out for our first gas search and it was not a good scene. The roads were a mess. Trees were down everywhere and most traffic signals were dead. It quickly became extremely frustrating seeing how many people did not observe the four way stop law when signals are out. People would just roll through the intersection with no concern for others.
We made a bunch of stops during the drive, including going to try to see Cindy’s daughter, her mother, and we even went down to my office. I wanted to see what sort of shape it was in. The outside of the building did not look good. The canopy that leads up to the front door was destroyed and a large section of a tree had fallen in front of the employee door. I crawled under the branch to get inside.
I was surprised to see power to the building although it was being applied via the large building generator outside. I walked the entire building and saw no real damage so that was good news. Being downtown also gave us our first chance to have semi-consistent phone service. We put out word that we were safe on social media.
So early in the week everyone in the area dealt with a huge shortage of gas stations that were open. Even if they had gas in the tanks, most of them did not have the power to actually pump it. A Wawa that was a couple miles from work was open and word of it spread like wildfire. When I passed the station with the loose idea of getting gas I reconsidered after seeing impossibly long lines snaking from every entrance to the store.
On Wednesday we finally got some additional gas thanks to the neighbors who waited roughly two hours in line to get gas at Sam’s Club. Cindy actually tried to get gas as well the day from Sam’s. She had 90 minutes invested in line when a cop came out and put a cone of death in front of the Tacoma as that was the official end of the line. She was rather frustrated as you can imagine.
Wednesday was also the day that I decided to add another creature comfort to our existence, live TV. Years ago I installed an over the air antennae that I used for a couple years when I dropped Comcast cable tv. Although I resumed cable service a number of years ago I left my OTA set up intact.
Well my antenna was one of the casualties of Irma. It’s mounting pole was bent over in a way that the antenna was a few feet off the ground. I decided to try to resurrect it after confirming I still had some left over mounting pole in the big shed. After removing the bent pole and installing new stuff I carefully dragged the antenna up the ladder and reattached it to the new pole.
Once I got it secured with U-bolts I noticed that the center portion of the antenna was bent upward. I tried to move it back down to straighten it and of course the aluminum shaft broke 80% of the way. I was too invested now to give up so I looked at a way to artificially support it. My initial attempt with nylon rope didn’t go so well but my second attempt using unused dog run cable was much better. I wrapped one end around the broken shaft and the other around the mounting pole. The combo seemed to more or less work and the antenna was more or less lined up like it should be.
So now the next step was to hook it up to a tv to see how the signal was. My initial attempts failed inside the house. Outlets in rooms that should still have the OTA jack working showed no signal. I needed to figure out why.
I decided to lug the tv that was in the guest room out to the trash bins which I used as a makeshift table. The antenna wire was spliced there to the interior wiring. I connected the wire directly to the tv and BAM, I had crisp HD signal on the tv. Ok so I knew the issue was something inside.
I placed the TV in our bedroom and changed the wiring in the sweltering attic, connecting the piece of coax in the bedroom to the splitter for OTA instead of cable. When I went into the bedroom I was again greeted with NO SIGNAL, damn it.
My trouble shooting process lead me to suspect the splitter the antenna connected to in the attic was bad. Perhaps it took a surge at some point. Well my suspicions proved correct when I was able to connect directly from the antenna to the bedroom line and get a signal. Success felt good and Cindy was happy that I was able to add TV back into our existence as it allowed us a better source of post storm info since our phones still hardly worked at all. Later in the week I bought a new splitter and was able to get TV on the big 70 inch tv as well in the great room.
On Wednesday I met management and some key accounting staff at our office. The plan was to bring the systems up to see if we had the connectivity necessary to allow accounting to process our payroll, a rather important duty. If we were unsuccessful people would not be seeing their paychecks direct deposited as they count on.
The building was still being powered by our huge diesel generator but everything we needed worked. Our Comcast internet connection was down but thankfully we have a second connection via Century Link that was still working. I spent about half of the morning in the office. After the work was completed the systems were shut back down as a safety measure until utility power could be restored (which happened on Thursday).
After the office visit I decided I wanted to get some more gas for the generators to stay ahead of the curve. I had heard repeatedly on the radio that gas in Fort Myers was more available so I decided to give it a shot after seeing horrid lines at the few stations in Naples that were open. My gamble paid off when I found gas at the Costco in Fort Myers. My wait was “only” and hour but they did have a limit to only filling two gas containers (I had three). Still I was thankful to have found gas.
When Cindy’s daughter visited us on Wednesday night she said the gas station that is only two miles from us actually had gas and the line wasn’t horrible. I figured I may as well take advantage of it. Much like Cindy’s experience earlier in the week, I got turned away when a clerk informed vehicles after a certain point that they were beyond the cut off point and the gas was running out. The clerk did say they expected another delivery around 6AM Thursday morning so I figured I could take advantage of it by getting up early the next day.
One thing that has been surprising all week has been the quality of sleep I have been getting. It’s been no worse than and possibly better than normal. Perhaps the extreme exhaustion I have felt from a week of hard labor in the boiling sun has helped facilitate that. But for whatever reason, sleeping with a fan blowing directly across me at night as I lay on top of the covers has been sufficiently comfortable to sleep. Pretty much every morning I have been able to sleep until close to 7AM, something I can’t do consistently normally.
So anyway, I awoke Thursday about 6:15 and wasted no time, hopping in the truck with two 5 gallon jugs for more generator gas. On average to run the big generator 24 hours was taking about 10 gallons of gas. Well I was not very happy to see that evidently word had gotten out and the line was actually longer than the night before, at 6:30 AM.
I sat there towards the end of the line for nearly 45 minutes watching absolutely no gas being pumped. I figured the promised 6AM tanker truck perhaps was held up so they were waiting for it to show up. Nope, all of a sudden at 7:15 AM they started allowing people to fill up. Of course I had a severe WTF feeling about this. Two hours after I entered the line I was finally able to fill my two 5 gallon gas jugs.
Later in the day Thursday we made one of our now daily trips to Home Depot to get supplies. I was amazed to see they had a HUGE amount of generators on hand which was cool. Of course getting gas to run them was another challenge.
During the day we also discovered another Irma related home issue. The guest bedroom had wet carpet in the corner. Great, just what I needed. It wasn’t dripping wet but damp. When we pulled back the carpet the floor underneath it was pretty much dry. My immediate diagnosis was the small hairline crack in that area of the exterior wall allowed some water to enter during the two to three hours hurricane Irma was smacking it like a pressure washer. (room was on the east side) We brought in a couple of our standard fans and propped up the carpet as best we could to allow it to dry out. Of course the dripping humid air inside did not help accelerate the process.
We got some unwelcome theory from a guy doing work on the neighbor’s broken water equipment that it was possible we could be without power for an additional two weeks. This seemed utterly impossible but also fueled my rash of additional buying at Home Depot on Friday.
Like I had mentioned, we had been going to Home Depot nearly everyday. They were getting huge shipments of various hurricane related supplies daily. I had already bought a chainsaw earlier in the week that I used to chop up the massive fallen coconut palm. Damn was that thing heavy.
So anyway I got it in my head that if I saw a window AC unit I was going to grab it. Imagine my excitement when I saw they literally had a 100 or more 5000 and 6000 BTU units stacked high against a wall. We happily grabbed a 6000 BTU LG unit. While we were at it they also had one of those high velocity fans used for drying out spaces, a perfect fit to accelerate drying out the carpet in the guest bedroom. It was like Christmas on a very hot and sweaty day in September.
When we got home we wasted very little time before installing the AC in the bedroom. Once it was in the window I flipped it on with great anticipation. When I started getting blasted in the face with ice cold air it was simply wonderful. We let the unit run all afternoon to cool down the bedroom. It may have done a little bit too good of a job, Cindy was actually a bit cold, a nice problem to have after the week we have had.
In regards to an overall description of the week, I would call it grueling. Cindy and I worked countless hours trying to fix what we could, clear what we could and make adjustments to adapt to the prolonged power outage that at this point has more than doubled what we endured with Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Friday was the day I officially started to lose patience with the pace of the power restoration in our immediate area.
By this point a huge amount of people had had their power restored. Some got it back as early as Tuesday. I actually rode up and down our street looking for power pole damage and found none. I guess it is natural you are feeling neglected after being without power for so long, despite the assurances that literally thousands of utility workers are working non-stop to restore power fully. Despite knowing that my various efforts have us living better than most without power, we both were just tired of the situation. Of course griping about it doesn’t do much good so the complaining passed eventually.
If we needed to appreciate our position more, all we had to do was drive down Bonita Beach road where Home Depot is located. Two of the three lanes were pretty much impassable due to ridiculous high water and the houses on the north side of the road were underwater. The deluge of rain over inland Florida from Irma caused massive sheet flow flooding days after the event. The end result was areas being under as much as 8 feet of water, nearly a week after the storm. Sure our lives have been inconvenienced and impacted from the storm but at least they weren’t destroyed as surely as most of the people that lived in the homes are. I am sure every home in that mess will have to be knocked down and rebuilt, if they are even rebuilt at all. If my house was in an area that can become an 8 foot deep lake I would not want to roll the dice that it won’t happen again.
Today, Saturday we got out early to do some of the remaining yard clean up. A lot of days this week the first thing we did was get out early to go hunt for and sit in gas lines. The end result was we would be doing the yard work during the heat of the day which is just grueling and dangerous. Despite drinking a TON of water, some days I would only have to take a leak two or three times a day. When I weighed myself a couple days ago I had lost something like 6 pounds, more than likely water weight.
But I digress. So we knocked out the yard work. We headed to Sam’s Club where I was able to pull right up to an empty pump, something that would have been impossible 48 hours prior. Cindy went in and loaded up on some groceries to set us up if our power outage is as prolonged as possibly predicted. After we got home we unloaded and got right back in the truck, this time to go to where else but Home Depot. We hoped to maybe grab ANOTHER window AC unit to put in the main living space to help pull some of the moisture out of the house. Obviously it can’t actually cool such a large space but it may be able to keep the interior temps from reaching 92 degrees as it did most days. Unfortunately we struck out, I was amazed they sold all of those AC units however they did still have a good supply of generators remaining.
So when we got home we thought we were pretty much staying put for the day. Instead we got a call from our neighbor whom we have been supplying power to via our generator. He said he stopped at Rural King and was going to buy one of the big generators we told him we saw there the day prior. There was one problem, the box was huge and massively heavy, something like 225 pounds. He asked if we could come get it in our truck. We thought it was good for him to have his own generator for multiple reasons so we said we would be right out.
When we got there Walt was sitting on the massive box in front of the store. The thing felt very, very heavy. I saw why he could not get it into the trunk of his Crown Vic. The generator actually had higher output than mine and had cool features like a digital meter and electric start. After picking him up we made one more stop at Home Depot to grab stuff like some more extension cords and a few other things.
When we got back I helped my neighbor unload and put together the hefty unit. After adding oil and gas it fired right up within a second of hitting the start button, sweet. I made an attempt to direct wire his generator to his circuit breaker box but was unsuccessful. After throwing the main breaker to cut him from utility power I wired his generator to the 220v well pump circuit using a twistlock rig I made for Wilma 12 years ago that I used to run some stuff in the house.
The way it was supposed to work was once I wired into that 220V circuit it should backfeed the rest of the panel. Before making the connection we of course turned all breakers off as even a 10,000 watt generator can not power an entire household. We figured we would do a small test so I threw the breaker for their fridge. When we went inside to see if it worked it, we thought it did as the power light on the outside of the refrigerator was on.
However, when Walt opened the door to the fridge the light flashed brightly as we heard a popping sound. Oh shit, I told him to unplug it immediately. I was worried that we just fried his fridge. I breathed a little easier when we plugged it back into one of the 110 outlets on the generator and the fridge came back on normally, whew.
I went to the house and dug out my volt meter to see what was going on. I had a bad feeling that for some reason 220 volts was just delivered to the fridge instead of 110. I was wrong, the meter actually showed only 75volts at that outlet and got the same reading when I read that circuit at the fuse box as well. Well I had no idea why this was but I wasn’t willing to fry electronics and appliances in his house to find out. He was fine using a myriad of extension cords to connect the essentials, just like we have been doing . He has TWO 14,000 BTU AC units that he is able to run simultaneously now. His house should be a lot more livable tonight than it has been.
Cindy has done an amazing job with meal prep during the outage. She has been able to prepare food using our inductive cooktop, toaster oven, and gas grill. She also has tirelessly assisted me in the recovery process, sometimes to her own detriment.
Oh, today was a noteworthy day in a less than stellar way for me. On our way home from Home Depot the first time we both agreed we had a desire for some good old McDonald’s French fries. I figured I could get a fish sandwich meal and Cindy could eat whatever she wanted. Well after waiting in a long line we got up to the ordering window and saw a piece of paper taped there. It said they only had a limited menu consisting of quarter pounders, 20 piece McNuggets, fries, and Coke or Sprite (in a can).
Well I broke my roughly five year hiatus on eating beef, pork or poultry and ordered myself and Cindy a quarter pounder. The fries and burger tasted as I remembered, satisfying in a greasy, salty, devious way. I enjoyed the burger but have no concerns about falling off the pescatarian wagon. It was good but not good enough that I can’t live without it.
So this brings us to current day of my tale of life post Irma. I am sure there are some interesting details I have glossed over or missed completely but you get the idea. This story is not over yet but I certainly hope Cindy and I can enjoy a return to normalcy before we officially transition into the fall season.