Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nor'easter 2011 ~ Part One: Survival

"If you have a major disaster involving hundreds of thousands, or in this case millions of people, whether it be a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, the first 72 hours are going to be totally chaotic no matter what you plan to do." ~ Warren Rudman

We went out that night, despite the weather warnings of a significant snowstorm. Snowstorms in New England are not a novelty. Seen one snowstorm, you've seen them all is my thought. I was involved in our church's production of the popular play "Our Town" that evening and as they say, the show had to go on. The cast had been rehearsing for weeks and this particular Saturday night was the last performance. I probably would have given anything to stay home that night due to a recent flare up of my autoimmune symptoms and from keeping a more hectic pace than usual over the past few weeks. But I had committed myself to the show and I was determined to see it through to the end.

It began to snow around 2pm that afternoon and as I got ready to be at the church for 6pm, I kept telling myself that soon I would be able to be at home and snuggled in my bed. I had nothing scheduled or planned over the next several days, except for Sunday church service, and I could get some rest which would hopefully help alleviate some of my symptoms. I had decided to send my dog to the dog sitter's house overnight since we would be away from home for longer than usual that day. Little did I know that I would not see her again for five days.

During that afternoon and evening, the winter storm blew through parts of New England causing widespread devastation. Snow total amounts in Western Massachusetts varied between 10 and 30 inches. Trees were still loaded with leaves; therefore the snow and wind caused damage similar to a hurricane, rather than a snowstorm.  While we were inside the church entertaining about fifty to sixty people and putting on a great performance, unbeknownst to us, our small town was being ravaged by the storm to a degree that none of us could have anticipated.

We decided to postpone our cast party after the performance that evening and got into our cars to make the slow journey home. As Chuck (my boyfriend) and I drove at a snail's pace through the center of town, I started to get the eerie feeling that this was not just a typical snowstorm. Everything was pitch black; the signs for the stores, the traffic lights, and the street lights, everything. It was difficult to even navigate ourselves through the familiar streets without our usual landmarks and traffic signals to guide us. Since we only live about seven minutes from the church though, I figured if we took our time, we would make it home eventually.

That was, until we came to our road, which is actually a main state route that traverses the length of Massachusetts (Route 9). Cars were backed up in front of us although initially, we could not determine why. Cars that were coming towards us in the opposite lane skidded this way and that way, narrowly avoiding crashing into us. Some cars were abandoned right in the middle of the road. To say the road conditions were treacherous would be an understatement. The road was pitch black and with limited visibility. Tree limbs and whole trees themselves were falling onto the road. We couldn't go forward and we couldn't go back. As we eventually moved a little further along the road, we were told by another motorist that one of the trees had fallen across the road onto a car and there was no way through. There were no police or emergency personnel. Vehicles were turning around and heading back towards town, which was delaying the traffic. Cars without four wheel drive were requiring several people to push the vehicle up the hill. At that point, we turned around in the road and began heading back towards town.

As we waited for each car to be pushed up the hill, I sat there with my heart racing. Very few times in my life have I ever been that scared. Why? Because we were sitting ducks. As we idled on the narrow road with guardrails on each side, we could hear the cracking of the trees and their limbs. I kept my right hand on the car door handle and put my legs in a position to enable me to quickly exit the car should a tree start falling down on our SUV. Chuck kept his eye on the road while I kept my eyes on the trees around us.

Luckily I had posted on Facebook via my cell phone that we were having difficulty in order to warn others who may be heading down our road. A friend of mine, who lived back in the center of town, responded that although she had no power, she had running water and a gas fireplace. More importantly, it was a safe place for us to spend the night. We precariously made our way to her house and over an hour later, thanked our lucky stars for having made it to her home safely.

Our road (Route 9) two days after the storm
 The next morning we attempted to make our way back to our home, initially with no success. We were also low on gas in my car (I know, my mother always yells at me for keeping my gas tank too low!) and then realized exactly what a tough situation we were in. Nobody had power in town; gas stations, ATMs, restaurants, convenience stores, NOBODY! We decided to try and head towards Amherst, which is the next town over, and were shocked at what we saw. Fallen trees, snapped utility poles, fallen power lines, abandoned cars. Everywhere. At some points, we actually had to do a bit of off roading with my SUV in order to get over to the next town. Luckily we did find a gas station to fill up at one hour later where it was widespread panic. People were grabbing nonperishable goods off the shelves as they didn't know when they would be able to gain access again to a store. ATM machines at the gas pumps were sporadically working. We realized that we only had $45 in cash between the two of us for god knows how long and we were trying to figure out the best way to use it. Eventually we got one of our credit cards to work at the pump and we tucked the $45 away hoping it would be enough to see us through if we had no access to banks or ATMs over the next several days.

We then decided to try and make our way to our home from the opposite end of Route 9 which was the road the gas station was on. Luckily our dog was not home alone (so glad I booked that dog sitter!), but I had none of my medications and we feared the worse had happened to our home. We live on a lot surrounded by large oak and pine trees and all I could envision was one on top of our home. Both Chuck and I had spent some time back in June doing some relief work in a nearby community that was struck by a tornado and the images of those obliterated homes was all my mind could see.

As we drove further down Route 9 towards our home, we were stopped at a road closed sign by a town police officer who instructed us that we could not continue down the road. I got out of the car and told him that I needed to get medications, especially since the stores were all closed. After giving us specific instructions about how to deal with fallen power lines, he allowed us through the blockade to go as far as our car would let us. He told us we may need to walk a part of the way. My Kia Sportage got a work out that day, but held steadfast as it swerved around downed power lines and large trees to deliver us right to the top of our driveway. It was so strange to leave our car right in a road that usually sees traffic zooming by at 50mph. Now, the usually busy road looked like a path through an area of dense woods.

As we approached our property, I could barely hold back the tears. They say that when a disaster strikes, the most important thing is that you and your loved ones are safe. While this is true, it is also traumatic to be dealing with the possibility of where you call your home no longer existing or being severely damaged. Where would we go if we couldn't live there? What if our safe haven in this world was no longer? I could see Chuck tense up as we got closer. This house was so important to him. They say that a house is just a building but it wasn't. It was our home.

Our home was still there. And in one piece. Relief flooded my body. There were more trees down than I could count, but the house was intact. There was hope.....

Photos Courtesy of Chuck Myers/Christine Molloy


  1. Loved you blog. Interesting turn of events when we take life for granted and positions for granted too. Hope all goes well for you and Chuck here after. Will keep praying. Harriet

  2. I spelled positions wrong. It should be possessions. HL