On September 18, 2003 Hurricane Isabel slammed into the Outer Banks of North Carolina with winds of 105 miles per hour. My family and I were in our home in Richmond Virginia as we watched the storm on CNN and knew it was expected impact most of the east coast north of the Outer Banks. Within a couple of hours we began to see the rain and then the wind began to pick up. Soon we were watching the full fury of the storm on our local television channels, impacting our city.
To my surprise, the city water system was the first to be affected by the storm. A combination of storm surge along the Virginia coast and locally heavy rain caused almost immediate flooding resulting in the failure of the city pumping station. It wasn’t long before we began to see images on the local news of firefighters standing by helplessly as a fire raged. With no water pressure to the fire hydrants they could do nothing but watch as the building burned. I most admit I found it most unusual to see a fire burning in such torrential rains, it seemed as though the rain itself should put the fire out yet it burned on.
Soon, the announcement was made that local police and fire officials would be ordered off the streets and into shelters to wait out the worst of the storm. It was abundantly clear that everyone was now on there own until the storm subsided. Soon after this announcement was made it seemed as though the entire city of Richmond fell dark as the electricity failed block by block.
On the other side of the street a 30-40 foot tall pine tree snapped like a twig in the wind and fell into another tree, then another, then another, the domino effect took down a total of 8 trees in two yards barely missing a house. As far as we could see large Oak and Maple trees twisted in the wind as if they were made of rubber, the blinding rain combined with the high winds gave the appearance that it was raining horizontally. The wind sounded much like a run away freight train and debris flew through the air like a missile seeking its target. Streets flooded, and trees fell blocking roads and damaging homes throughout the city.
With storm surges of over 8 feet Isabel brought flooding from North Carolina to Washington D.C. Rain from the storm extended from South Carolina northward to Main and westward to Michigan. Moderate to severe damage extended as far inland as West Virginia. 17 deaths are directly blamed on the storm with another 35 indirectly. Approximately 6 million people were left without electricity and damages are estimated at 3.95 billion dollars. Damage was greatest along the Outer Banks, however the worst affects of the storm were felt in Virginia witch reported the most damage and the majority of the deaths. 64% of the damage and 68 % of the deaths were in Virginia and North Carolina alone. According to local estimates about 10000 trees were down in Richmond alone.
As the storm moved northward and the sun rose over Richmond it became obvious that although the storm had moved on the disaster was far from over. Stores, gas stations and banks were unable to open leaving those who were unprepared without fuel, cash and food. Many found that they had severe damage to there homes, businesses, or vehicles. And a few awoke to find they had lost loved ones. People stood in long lines for a bag of ice and some bottled water, even charcoal was not available. Most of us cooked outside in our yards, I used that opportunity to burn most of the debris blown from trees into our yard.
The city water system was the first to fail and the first to come back on line in only about three days, however it would be a week before it was declared safe. We were fortunate in that our electricity was only out for four days; many would do without for up to 10 weeks or more. As amazing as it seems our telephone lines did not go down although I believe we were the exception, not the rule.
When compared to Katrina, the devastation of Isabel (a Cat. 5 but weakened some just before land fall) is mild but I believe it is important to keep in mind that if you are in the path of an approaching hurricane, a weak hurricane is still a hurricane. Based on my experience and the aftermath of Katrina I would have to say that evacuation is not only the best option but the only option if you find yourself in the path of a hurricane. However many factors come into play when deciding to evacuate, everything from your financial situation to plain old fashioned curiosity. In the event that you can not or will not evacuate I recommend an over abundance of preparedness. For those who like to be prepared in advance you might like to visit www.thewholesalesavingclub.com
And click on the survival kits section. Here you will find emergency food bars, children’s emergency kits, shelters and a few other things, in fact, with a little looking around you will find just about anything you may need including generators. Again, I would strongly recommend evacuation; the end of the storm may be the beginning of the crises.