It seems impossible that five years ago we awoke to one of the most devastating ice storms in recent history. Across New Hampshire, over 422,000 homes were cold and dark, a full 60% of the state.
Just a few days before, Hanni and I had gone out back to cut our Christmas tree. It would live on the deck with peanut butter and seed pine cones for decorations as we were headed to Jamaica on Christmas day.
We were without power for ten days before Christmas. No electricity, no water, short days of thin sunlight; just coping with daily living took on new proportions.
Swaths of towns across the state were without gas or food as trucks couldn’t navigate the roads littered with power lines and trees.Crews were brought in from Canada and Florida to aid Public Service of New Hampshire clear the roads and repair the miles of power lines. It was a time when people came together in collective misery. Who had a generator? Who had water? Where could you get gas for a generator? Lines at the few gas stations within thirty miles were obstructing traffic and there were limits on how much you could buy.
From my diary, written by oil lamp: 12/12/08
Dark has come again and the shimmery glory of the destruction we faced all day is invisible now. The power went out around 9 PM last night. All night long I was awake to the gun-shot crack of trees giving way to the ice and rain. Dawn displayed a wonderland of limbs and tree tops littering the yard.
Late this afternoon, a neighbor helped me drag my portable generator to the front deck and get it started. It’s now powering the fridge and two lamps. A fire in the hearth is keeping the temperature at a cozy 62°. I really want a hot shower and someone to serve me dinner.”
No one could navigate the roads but emergency vehicles. Though we had no TV or radio I got that message load and clear from the communications line we set up with neighbors. There were tire tracks where vehicles had wound their way around the downed trees and power lines, but venturing out on the roads, meant you were an obstacle to those who were doing their best to restore power.
We had filled the bath tubs at the first mention of a storm, that’s standard procedure out here, and knew that the water would last to flush toilets and boil for immediate hygiene. Longer term, I needed a plan. By day two, I needed to get out and find water and gas for the generator.
From my diary:
Day three of the State of Emergency. Water mission accomplished. Left the house at around 9:30 for Keene. Shaws provided 6 gallons of drinking water. WalMart had two large gas cans and an UNO card game. Gas, milk, bread and eggs found, then out to Route 9 East to Hancock where a friend promised a hot shower. He also provided two huge Tupperware containers of water in the back of the truck for replenishing the tubs. Daylight is fading but we have heat and lots of water so we are comfortable for another night.”
The kindness of strangers and co-workers grew as the days passed. Every moment of daylight was spent dealing with things that happened automatically in the old world. As the clock ticked by the hours and days, I worried about our impending departure for Jamaica. We were booked on a flight out Christmas day. I couldn’t leave this mess for ten days of vacation, the pipes would freeze and burst.
Eventually, we were able to make it down the road to Peterborough. Power had been restored there and I sent Hanni to the home of a friend so she could shower and have a rest from the constant drudgery of life without electricity. We had worn out an entire set of UNO cards and were in need of some relief. I had to stay at the house for the animals and to keep a fire going, as even with the generator, the heat was a constant issue.
On one mission for water, I had to stop and wait for the power trucks to wave me past. As I slowed and drove around I saw two men lying full-out in the snow, waving their arms and legs, making ‘snow angels’ in someone’s lawn. I pulled over, laughing. Another worker walked up to my window and said, “You have to forgive those guys from Florida. They’ve never seen anything like this and they get a little crazy sometimes.”
On December 22, 2008 my journal entry reads. “Dancing to Reggae — save my soul! ” Power was restored just in time for us to clean up and pack. I took Hanni and her friend on the most needed vacation in history. We boarded the plane to Negril, Jamaica for ten days of sun and memory loss.
Journal entry from Christmas Day – en route, 12/25/08
“Forty-five minutes of sleep before Hanni got Webbs and I up for the mad dash to the airport. It was forty degrees, windy, but icy. A good time to leave for warmer climates. And so the adventure begins…”