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Pwned by Mother Nature

December 7, 2007

I would suppose this goes into the “Anything Awesome Worth Mentioning” category eh? However, this was anything but awesome.

For those of you that live in Western Washington, I’m sure you’ve seen what happened on the coast. The Storm of the Century so to speak. Well, I was right in the middle of it all, as I live in Aberdeen. So for those who are interested, here is my full recap of what happened from my perspective. Thanks to Brett for letting me guest post this on his blog.

More after the jump.

December 1st


I get to work on Friday, the 30th, at 7:30 PM. While I’m in the Security Office grabbing my gear, I find a note on the desk that talk about an upcoming storm. Few inches of snow on Saturday, followed by high winds on Sunday and Monday, with gusts up to 80 MPH. No biggie I figure. Might have to go a day or two without power, just another winter here in Grays Harbor. And Shoalwater has that huge generator, so work won’t be a problem. I get off at 3:30 AM and find it to be freezing and cloudy. Snow is on the way.

I go home, go to sleep, and wake up about 9:00 to use the bathroom. I look out the window and see no snow. Chuckling to myself about dumbass weathermen, I finish my business and go back to sleep. When I wake up for good again about 1:00 PM on Saturday the 1st, there is an inch of snow on the ground and its still snowing. The kid in me is gleeful that snow is here, but the rest of me is not looking forward to the 45 minute drive to work that night.

A few hours later the temperature rises and snow turns to rain. The rain washes away most of the snow and my reactions are reversed. However as day turns to night, the temperatures drop and it starts becoming a snow/rain mix outside. Normally I would leave for work at 6:30 PM, but anticipating the rough conditions on the road ahead, I leave a half hour early.

As I leave Aberdeen, the sleet has turned back to pure snow. The roads are slushy and very slippery. I lower my speed to a safe level and pass several cars either in the ditch or stranded.

Then a weird thing happens. The conditions continue out of Aberdeen for about 10 miles, and then they abruptly change. As I approach John’s River and the Ocean Spray factory my temperature gauge in my Cherokee raises about 7 degrees and the scenery starts to change. The roads start to clear up the farther I go, and the snow becomes less and less. By the time I get to Westport, it’s like I’ve stepped into another time zone. Instead of cold, ice, and snow I am faced with warmer weather and high winds.

Since I was able to increase my speed because of the favoring conditions the farther I went, I arrive in Westport 20 minutes ahead of schedule. So I decide to stop by a Subway to get some lunch to eat later at work. I’m not alone as a school bus of high schoolers is there as well. What they were doing there on a Saturday night, I’ll never know. They weren’t dressed in sports uniforms at all, or anything to indicate what they were doing. Nonetheless I end up waiting in line behind the last half dozen of them. After ordering my meal and getting up the checkout counter, the lady hands me my food and I reach for my wallet. She gives me a weird look and asks what I’m doing. Even more perplexed than her, I just say “uhhhhh”. She says “Isn’t your school paying for this?” apparently mistaking me for one of the kids. For a brief minute I have that “Angel and Devil on the shoulder” discussion with myself and decide that on this day, I’ll let good win. Besides, I might have gotten caught when I walked out the door and to the opposite side of the parking lot to where the bus was parked. And as my mom always told me “You didn’t do it if you didn’t get caught.” When I get to work the winds are starting to get very loud and very strong. The worst storm this area has ever seen has begun.

 

December 2nd

 

Work is uneventful. I catch brief glimpses of the news while doing my rounds. They mention that the storm should last until about 4 PM Monday afternoon. The lights flicker on and off all night. When I leave at 3:30 AM once again, the winds are strong enough that I have to actually excerpt effort to walk forward. The drive home is spent watching trees sway back and forth. When I get home and get to sleep at 4:30 AM, we have power and the wind is deafening.

I wake up a little after noon to find that the power is out. While talking to my roommate Ike, who had worked the graveyard shift at his job the previous night, we determine that the power went out at around 7 in the morning. We figure the power will be out for a day or two and set about finding something to do. The wind continues its non stop howl and is still extremely strong. I head over to a friends house to see how they are doing. After checking up on my mom and a few others, two friends and I set out driving around town checking out the damage. It is extensive. Huge trees are uprooted, power poles are snapped in half, several homes are destroyed, several cars are crushed under trees, roofs are blown off, signs are torn apart, and there is even a phone booth in somebody’s yard. Who knows how far it traveled before it finally ended up at its destination.

80% of Aberdeen is under ankle deep water. Most streets are impassable for any kind of car, but my Cherokee makes it through for the most part. Obviously the rebuilt Griffin park was not build for these extremes, as even it cannot handle this much water. It looks like a wave pool when you drive by it.

After heading home later in the day, reports start to come in over the radio. The Chehalis River has completely flooded as people have to be air lifted off their roofs. It’s turning into a mini Katrina. People are saying it is the worst storm they have ever seen in their lives. The PUD is saying that it will take 5-8 days to restore power to 40,000+ people, because they are refusing to send out any crews until the winds die down, due to the fact that two of their people were seriously hurt while working in the wind. The Bowerman weather center last registered a 93 MPH gust before being knocked out.

Everything and anything is shut completely down. Every major road heading in or out of the area is completely closed off. There is no gas, there is no food, and there is no help. We’re completely closed in. It’s at this point that everybody starts to realize that we were all woefully unprepared for any of this. The people that have generators fire them up and the rest of us that don’t (me included), bundle up in the dark and listen as the radio tells us to stay inside and not go anywhere. The only bit of good news is that the temperature is staying close to 50 degrees, so lack of heat isn’t a big issue. I go to sleep Sunday night, listening to this seemingly never-ending wind batter my apartment.

December 3rd


I wake up around 10 am or so and start to assess my situation. I have just over a half tank of gas, which will get me to work and back easily that night(I work graveyard on Monday and Tuesday) and still allow plenty of gas to drive around town for a week until the power comes back on. Around 10:30 power is somehow restored to a very small area of town that contains a 7-11 with gas and a Swansons. I try to get to the 7-11, but the line is at least a dozen blocks long in every direction. So I settle for Swanson’s as I grab some chips and a few other non perishable items. About 11:15 the power in that section of town goes off once again and both places close back down. 4 PM comes and goes and the wind is still going and as strong as ever. And it still shows no signs of stopping.

I have to be to work at midnight. By 7PM the road to Westport still is not open, so I call in and say I likely won’t be able to make it. But around 10:30 PM, a friend who works for a logging company and who is up in that area, says that the roads are pretty bad but they are passable. Deciding I can’t afford not to work, I risk it and drive up there. I spend the entire drive dodging trees, power lines, water, power poles, and other debris while battling the wind. At one point I encounter a tree that has blocked the entire road. However, since I am smarter than the average bear, I’ve thought ahead. In my rig is a small power saw, a toe chain, a cedar hook, and a few other block cutting tools. I grew up in a family of block cutters and shake rats. I spent the first 10 years of my life working in the woods falling trees and cutting cedar blocks. I’d helped fly a helicopter that was flying blocks before I was behind the wheel of my first car. So of course, I have my own block cutting equipment, and if there is one thing I know, it’s cutting trees. So I use the power saw to cut the tree into four sections, sink the cedar hook into each section, and then drag it out of the way with the chain and my Cherokee. It takes about a half hour to do, but it gets done and the road is clear. Thankfully I did not encounter any more obstacles. The rest of the trip is still hazardous but in the end I make it. My boss decides it would be best to keep me on along with my coworker Tom that was called in, just in case something happens. Shoalwater (my work) is completely sandbagged and on generator power. My first thought was that this would make a good Resident Evil setting.

Unfortunately, nobody bothered to tell us that the generator only had an 8th of a tank of diesel left. We find this out about an hour after our boss has left. The only people there are us, Katie who is in surveillance, and Ken, one of our gaming agents who is sleeping next door in the TGA trailer. Tom and I try our best to get a hold of somebody to come refill the generator, but phones are starting to fail all over the county as the windstorm seems to actually be getting worse. Our cell phones are useless and this point and the work phones will fail once the power dies. We are unsuccessful in contacting anybody, 911 included, and finally the generator dies and everything goes dark at about 3:15 AM. Surveillance dies about 45 minutes later, so Katie comes down stairs to sit with us in the dark. All we have is our flashlights. We decide to risk going outside to try to get a signal. I end up being the one to go, since my phone has the most power. I end up driving about a quarter of a mile down the road before I get signal in the storm. I’m able to get a hold of our maintenance manager, who tells everybody else what is going on and is able to send a truck down to us with 40 gallons of diesel fuel. It arrives an hour later and fills us up to about a quarter tank. We repay him for his efforts with 4 packs of cigarettes out of the bar, free of charge. Considering the circumstances, I doubt anybody will mind. Despite the refill we still can’t get the generator to start, as it won’t turn over. After about 2 hours of messing with it, our Tribal Gaming Commissioner Jim Anderson, who is an awesome dude arrives with starter fluid, and is able to get it going and get power restored at about 7:15. Our relief shows up at 8 0’clock and I go home. The winds are finally starting to falter off.

 

December 4th


By the time I get into town at about 9 AM, the winds have finally stopped. The storm is over. A few places start to open up on generator power, including two gas stations in Ocean Shores and Montesano. But the gas is gone in 2 hours, so I don’t even try. At this point I have just enough has to make it to work and back that night. I will spend all day debating on weather or not I want to go. I get home to find that almost everything in my fridge and freezer is spoiled. So with some places opening up, I head out to get supplies. I’m joined by pretty much the entire population of Grays Harbor. It’s a mad rush as people are fighting for supplies. There’s talks of looting as we’ve entered full fledge Katrina mode. First things first as I’m able to get a cooler from Dennis Company after stopping by Home Depot. Ice is hard to come by, but luckily for me, I still have a few connections at my last job (Sidney’s Casino), so I’m able to stop by their deli and help myself to all the ice I can handle for my cooler. I’m also able to grab some lunch meat while I’m there as well. I figure I can live on sandwiches and chips for the next week or so. I make my way over to Safeway where I’m able to get mayo, mustard, more lunch meat and two gallons of Sunny D(milk was gone). I ‘m unable to get any bread though, and I don’t have any at home. But, while standing in line for 45 minutes at Safeway, a gentleman who is behind me and who has 6 loafs in his cart, hears me talking on my phone about my problem. He mentions that he needs ice, so I propose a swap. After our purchases, we barter and I end up trading a cooler full of ice for 2 loafs of bread. Not bad considering I just went back to Sidney’s and refilled my cooler afterwards. Maybe he was a distant cousin of Bill Bavasi’s….

The only thing I’m not able to get is D-Batteries, Which I need 2 of. Turns out they are worth their weight in gold. I go all over town, but don’t have any luck, and eventually give up. While looking I wonder across several stores where people are literally fighting for supplies. It’s getting bad.

 

I end up going home and getting 6 hours of sleep. When I wake up at 7 PM, I hear things have gotten a little better and that they may have parts of the industrial part of Aberdeen open by morning. Hopeful that I will be able get gas in the morning, I risk what little gas I have left and head to work. Thankfully this time the road is clear and the generator has a full tank. I bring my shaving stuff with me to work since they have hot water there and I shave in the men’s room. I may smell like a bum, and might be doing a few bum like things. But damnit, I won’t look like one. The night is uneventful and I head back to town at 8 AM with my tank hovering on the E.

 

December 5th

 

I don’t have to work that night fortunately. But that will not be the end of my good fortune. As I’m driving into town, the hot sounding Robin of 104.7 informs me that power has indeed been restored to the industrial section of Aberdeen. This includes AM-PM with gas, Safeway with gas, a 7-11 with gas, Sidney’s, and a few other places. And since it is only 9 AM, I arrive at AM-PM as merely the 14th car in line. A half hour and 60 dollars later and I have a full tank of gas. A huge weight is lifted off my shoulders as a result. Reports are pouring in of a few roads opening out of the area, including the Blue Slew. Supplies and help are on the way. You can almost feel the nervousness and the helplessness dissipate throughout the entire county.

I drive around town a little bit to see who all has power. About half of Hoquiam does, including my mom, as well as other small sections of Aberdeen. My friend Justin has power as well. He lives at the bottom of hospital hill and was one of the first to get it. I need to move onto that power grid. I take a few pictures of the damage around town with the cell phone. The thought occurs to me that I should of done it earlier, as I’ve seen some crazy things, and it would have been nice to have had a better optical representation of this historic event(for this area at least). I have a few low resolution pictures on my phone that I can upload and link to if there are any requests.

After surveying the area, I head home and find that I still do not have power. This isn’t a surprise as I am always one of the last to be restored. You would think a power grid which includes Wal Mart and Robert Gray Elementary School would be higher on the priority list. So I jump under my sleeping bag and pass out.

If there is one good thing to come out of this experience for me, it’s the sleep I got that day. I slept 10 hours, woke up briefly, and then slept 10 more hours. I’ve been complaining that the current half and half schedule(2 days graveyard and 3 days swing) that I’m on has been killing my sleep patterns and that I can’t get a full nights sleep. Well, whatever sleep I’ve been missing out on, I sure took care of it that day. I haven’t felt this refreshed in a while.

 

December 6th

 

I wake up about 9 AM or so, completely reenergized. However, I still feel and smell likes the bums that gather at the Wal Mart entrance way almost every day. Of course, I still do not have power. So I call up my friend Justin who does indeed have power and ask him if I can use his facilities. He agrees and I head over to take a shower and wash my laundry. Man, let me tell you, never has a shower felt so damn good. I felt like a new man after I was done. While I’m waiting for my clothes to finish, I get online, post a small update at LL, and catch up on baseball stuff. After a few hours of doing so, my clothes are done and I head home and then off to work. Still powerless as I leave.

Work is uneventful for the most part. As I drive into Westport, I find they are finally starting to fix the power poles that have snapped off and are hanging on the power lines over the road. It’s about damn time, because I am tired of tempting Darwin every time I drive under those. The new kid Connor started yesterday while I was hibernating. He was supposed to start Monday night and I was supposed to start his training, but Mother Nature had other plans it seems. He comes in for his 2nd day and we show him the ropes. I clock out at 1:30 AM, but stick around till 3:00 bullshitting because I’m in no hurry to get home to a cold, dark, apartment. It would turn out to be a good idea.

I come into Aberdeen at around 3:30 and find Southside is still as dark as the Goddamned Batman’s cape. I roll my eyes as my mode darkens to match my surroundings. However that quickly changes as I head over the big bridge. From the top I can see that Wal Mart and the surrounding areas have power. I can’t see my neighborhood thanks to Think-of-me hill, but I’m hopeful. My speed increases 5 MPH as I’m anxious to get home. I come up to my street to see that there is a light on in James Grocery. I pull into my apartment complex, rush up the stairs, open the door, and flip the switch on. Light fills the room. I call my roommate, who is working, and endear him of the good news. He is as ecstatic as I am. My alarm clock is flashing 12:58, so apparently power was restored around 2:30 AM or so. I surf the net for an hour or so, turn the lights off, and hit the sack with a smile on my face for the first time since the calendar switch over to a new month.

 

December 7th


Things are slowly returning back to normal around here. Many are still without power unfortunately. And in some areas like Humptulips, Tokeland, and Pacific Beach, it will be yet another 4-7 days until power is fully restored. Winds reached a peak of 129 MPH. I am not certain, but I believe this was officially a Class II Hurricane. It is officially the worst storm in the history of the Grays Harbor, Pacific, and Garfield county areas. It is something I hope to never have to go through again. It’s also something that will be regaled for years to come, much like the Columbus Day storm of 1963 was. There is massive damage everywhere. Several people were hurt, and as far as I know, at least 1 person is officially dead as a result of this storm. I’ve heard some incredible things as a result of this storm. Some good, like for instance how the Red Cross had to tell people to stop donating things, because they were overflowing with stuff. And some bad, like how an entire trailer was swept off its land and into the ocean by the winds, taking two people with it, presumably never to be seen again.

Some people I imagine will scoff at this whole recount. Many people have been through much much worse. People in Florida probably consider this event a regular Thursday night occurrence. But for myself, and many others around me, it’s a profound event in my life that I won’t forget for quite some time. In the end, the only consequence of this storm for me was that I lost most of the food in my fridge, which can be easily replaced, and I was without baseball coverage for the good part of a week. I’m extremely fortunate and thankful. To others who were not so lucky, I wish you nothing but good fortune throughout, and the hope that you recover quickly, especially those in Centralia and Chehalis who have lost their homes and most of their personal belongings.

Every great storm has a name. And I have yet to hear a name for this as of this writing. I am unsure as to what to call it myself, but I do know one thing. No matter how much technology we develop, or how superior we as a race may get, every once in a while Mother Nature has to come along and grab us by the balls and say “Remember, anywhere, anytime, your ass is mine.” But the bottom line is this:

 

We were Pwned by Mother Nature.

~Goose

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2 comments

  1. Holy crap, Goose! Epic story, and go figure that even in the PNW, all it takes is a sever storm to send entire communities into Katrina-like chaos.

    Glad to see you came out of it okay, and may no one question your manhood given how well you handled yourself during this whole mess.


  2. Wow, Goose! Thanks for sharing this — what a story indeed! Lewis County is such a mess — several of both my and my wife’s coworkers weren’t so fortunate. I’m wondering if/when the dust settles if they’ll find a few more people missing. Prayers all around, and I’m glad you came through it mostly unscathed. And that you didn’t try to run the barbeque inside the house. Or go shopping at the Ocean Shores IGA…



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