[Text heavy post. No gratuitous storm photos – had to save cellphone battery. If you really want to see some footage, check out HawaiiNewsNow.com – they have aerial video of Puna provided by a drone flyover]
We are now 11 days after my first hurricane in the Pacific.
Holy mackerel was that different from any storms I previously experienced!
It of course started with the forecast, people rushing out to buy toilet paper and water and reminders to have your emergency kits ready to go. The forecast, however, was looking iffy. Would Iselle still be a hurricane when she hit? Would she veer one way or another and miss Hawaii altogether?
Maybe it’s all the storms we lived through in Virginia (tropical and winter) that ended up being over-hyped and turned into mostly non-events that had me feeling a little cynical. Shane hadn’t experienced a hurricane in Hawaii since Iniki hit in 1992 when he was just 6 years old. We had no idea on what level to
freak out make storm preparations.
The day before, we hit up Target after an appointment with the midwife to pick up some regular groceries. The morning of the storm I pulled our lantern and extra flashlight out of our camping stuff to make sure they were handy. We taped our windows as a precaution against breaking glass (we have some big plate glass windows), filled up all of our bottles and pitchers with extra water and filled up our jacuzzi tub with an extra water supply. I was planning on filling up Tristan’s tub after I gave him his bath that night. I set dinner to cook in the slow-cooker and sent Shane off to work. I still wasn’t convinced it was going to be all that big of a deal.
I was wrong.
After Tristan’s nap, it was rainy and we sat down to watch Harry Potter. Not even 10 minutes in, the power went out. It was only 4:30pm! It flickered back on a couple minutes later, just long enough for me to reset the clock on the stove before going out again. The part that was incredibly annoying was that the wind wasn’t even blowing yet! We were really only experiencing outer rain bands. Of course, I now had absolutely no idea what was going on with the storm since my power was out and internet was down (and we don’t have a battery operated radio – rookie mistake!).
Luckily, the power went out with just enough time for my slow-cooker dinner to be finished. I entertained Tristan for a little while reading books and we ate dinner before it got too dark to see much.
A power outage during a hurricane isn’t exactly fun when you’re all alone with a two-year-old and happen to be pregnant. Drinking to pass the time is obviously not an option and Tristan isn’t exactly a great card player – unless you count 52 Card Pick Up. Can’t say I wanted to play that game in the dark. So, we put on our jammies, brushed our teeth and crawled into my bed to read a little more.
Right about the time Tristan fell asleep, the storm got real.
I spent the next several hours more or less paralyzed with fear in my bed. I was afraid to look out the window as the wind was absolutely howling. (Note: palm trees sound terrifying when whipping around in the wind!) I was scared to leave Tristan to even go to the bathroom (not cool for this pregnant lady). I’ve never seen trees bend at 90-degree angles and not break. The whole house was rattling and the rain pounding on our metal roof was deafening. I couldn’t sleep but I couldn’t do anything else either.
Most disturbing of all was knowing that my husband was out working in the middle of the storm. I’m still adjusting to life as the spouse of a police officer. We made this decision together knowing what it would entail, but I still find myself surprised by what it requires of all of us sometimes. Riding out a hurricane alone, with our two-year-old son, isn’t exactly at the top of my list of Things I Want to Do. I know it wasn’t easy for Shane either, stuck in the middle of the storm, worrying about his family at home.
My body would doze off for a couple minutes with every break in the wind (I was so tired), but each new gust would wake me up and send me into a panic again. I’m pretty sure I cried at some point. I don’t recall ever being so scared before. Imagine my relief when Shane miraculously arrived home about 2am. (I honestly wasn’t expecting to see him until the morning). At least I had someone there to hold my hand through the rest of the storm while Tristan slept the best night of his life between us.
The morning after the power, of course, was still out. I wanted to let Shane sleep since he still had to report to work later that day. I got up to get Tristan some breakfast before crashing on the couch. It was maybe an hour later when Lily (one of our cats) woke me up to let me know that Tristan Tornado had just hit. I blearily saw Tristan was in the pantry, I assumed he was eating dried pasta out of the box per-usual.
I was wrong again.
I said, “Tristan, what are you eating?” He emerges from behind the kitchen table: “It’s CHOCO-late!”
The boy’s face was smeared with Nesquick Powder so that he looked like he had a beard and there was chocolate powder all. over. everything. (In fact, over a week later, yesterday I just found more chocolate powder that we missed!) It was ground into the rug, all over my chair, mixed with the cat food and in their water dishes, a gooey mess in the grout of the tile where it had mixed with water, coating Tristan’s pajamas. It was a mess. I maintain it would have been daunting to clean up even if we had electricity. In fact, I spent some time today still trying to get it out of my rug! At least Tristan provided some comic relief.
After that things became even less fun. It was while we were cleaning up the chocolate that the water stopped flowing in the house. I had neglected to think about how a power outage would affect our water supply. We have a 17,500 gallon catchment tank in our backyard which provides our home with water via rain run-off from our roof and is then filtered several times and pumped back into our house. I’m quite certain following the storm, the tank was full, but once the water that was already past the pump ran out, we had no running water.
We were upbeat about it. We headed into town to charge cellphones, check on family, have some lunch. We were confident it wouldn’t be too long before things were back to normal.
We hadn’t realized yet that Puna – the district on the Big Island of Hawaii where we live – had taken the brunt of the storm and suffered the worst damage. Basically, Iselle came at the Big Island as a Category 1 hurricane, right over Puna, ran into the mountains in the middle of the island which acted as a buffer for the west side and the rest of the state, stalled over Puna and then dissipated into a tropical storm. Even Hilo – the major town just 15 miles or so north of where we live – didn’t experience such a severe impact from the storm.
We realize now, how incredibly fortunate we are. Thank God, our house suffered absolutely no damage and only two trees came down on our 3-acre property (one way out in the middle of the yard that we were hoping to see go anyways). We were all kept safe from the storm, even Shane who had some scary moments with power lines and trees coming down right where he was patrolling.
It turned out we were without power and running water for one week. Again, we are very lucky in that the roads in and out of our neighborhood were clear and we were able to drive into town to purchase available supplies (not much at this point), shower and charge phones at family members’ homes and get hot meals. Some of the hardest hit neighborhoods finally just got their streets cleared of fallen trees and still are waiting on power to be restored. We could’ve been trapped in our house or neighborhood for a week. I even read one story of a woman and her granddaughter that were trapped in a bedroom for a couple days by a fallen tree. Much of what I found to be an inconvenience could have been much, much worse. I can’t imagine what some storm victims are going through.
I did learn some lessons from Iselle:
- Take storm preparations seriously. Now that I have been shaken out of my Virginia mindset, we will definitely be more adequately prepared for the next storm. We are waiting on generators to become available here again (island, high-demand, next several shipments sold out), but will probably be purchasing one of those. Along with stocking up on plenty of water!!! (Again, when available. Target the other day was still sold-out of bottled water, even with a 2-case/family limit)
- Don’t leave necessary laundry or dishes unwashed before a storm. Yeah, that crockpot meal I cooked before the power went out…sat for a week. I didn’t want to dump out the chicken fat/juices in the drain (would attract ants without being able to run the disposal) and I was confident we’d get our power back soon. Oops! I don’t need to give you the details of my cloth diaper load that sat unwashed for a week as well. Better planning next time!
- Get solar power! Actually, we started getting estimates on solar power in the weeks before the storm. The fact we could have been flushing toilets and not lost a fridge full of food are pretty darn appealing! We were pretty sold before our week-long power outage, but I think we will be signing on the dotted line soon to get moving on our photovoltaic installation!
- Always keep a store of ice! Yep, going to be putting that chest freezer to work pretty soon. You have absolutely no idea what a premium ice became here since the storm. For the first few days post-Iselle it was next to impossible to find (especially as everyone held onto storm supplies waiting to see what Julio would do). They started trucking in donations from the west side of the island for the hardest-hit areas, and as more and more people got back online they started making ice to donate/share with friends and family who needed it.
- There truly is an aloha spirit in Hawaii. We have been so blessed to have so many family members nearby (enough that we didn’t have to impose on any one for too much) to lend us coolers, let us shower or do laundry, supply us with much needed ice in the week after the storm. I even had acquaintances that I hardly know reach out via Facebook and offer to supply us with ice or whatever we needed to help us get by. I’ve been quite impressed by the outpouring from local businesses cooking hot meals for the residents who still don’t have power, or donating fresh produce and all those who have offered up free ice and water every day since the storm. We even had a neighbor come clean up our fallen tree at the front of our driveway since with Shane’s working hours we hadn’t had a chance to get to just yet! It is so refreshing to see people looking out for their neighbors (or complete strangers) and doing whatever it is they can to help. As they say here, I’m lucky I live Hawaii.
Iselle was a bit of an adventure, although I’d prefer to not experience anything similar in the future. At least, we can take what we learned and better prepare next time.