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Mico Verde

Seattle windstorm 2006

After sailing 12,000 miles we thought we were so tough … We’d lived off the grid for nearly three years but nothing could have prepared us for this. Just like being at sea I could see the storm system coming for a week before it first hit. A massive low pressure system starting in Japan and deepened as it reached the coast with three sets of cold fronts.

It was Thursday morning at 0800 local time in Bellevue when I received an IM from a colleague who has a beach house on the Washington coast near Gray’s Harbor. She was aware of my weather obsession going back to years even before we left for the big trip. She asked if this blow is going to be as bad as it’s being hyped. I told her that it’s the biggest one that I’ve ever seen in the PNW and that she should have a friend get the storm shutters on ASAP. I even told her about the technique that Aussie’s swear by – opening the windows of a house on the lee side to equalize the pressure inside and out (NOAA debunks this theory on their website).

The day passed with some anxiety by nearly everyone at the office. Everyone kept a real sailor’s weather-eye-on-the-horizon from their offices throughout the day. The evening news confirmed that, although the system has been delayed by a few hours it’s still on the way. We turned in and hoped for the best around 2230. In the middle of the night we heard a little wind but nothing like we’re accustomed to at sea where the wind sings and roars through the steel rigging and makes low tones on the hollow aluminum mast. We thought that maybe we’ve dodged a bullet.

But wait … The next morning, as expected the power was still out and was not to return for a week. I should point out that our little apartment is only about four blocks from the central banking district in downtown Bellevue. So, with no power on Friday we just did what everyone else was doing – that being not going to work (no power there) and hitting the streets. It was such a rare and interesting glimpse into how America not is prepared for any kind of natural or manmade disaster. All any insurgent group needs to do is pull the plug on the power grid. It’s a complete domino effect after that.

You don’t realize what a calming effect TV and surfing the Internet has for the American way of life. We’re not a nation of bookworms and craftsman by and large these days. Things got bad when everyone had to take to the streets in their cars just to keep warm and have an excuse to just do something. At least the library was open but it was nearly impossible to find a little space just to sit in the well lit warmth and pour over a book or magazine for a few hours.

On Friday the streets of Bellevue were 100% jammed with cars. Only one gas station had power and the police had to affect a localized marshal law in the vicinity. Cars were stuck in traffic so long that they ran out of gas. People were hiking up and down the streets with gas cans only to be stuck again.

And so the next three days passed – go to bed with many layers of clothes and watch the temp inside fall every few hours. The water in the hot-water tank stayed at least tepid enough to shower for almost 72 hours. In the mornings we’d rise in the freezing cold and dress quickly. Most of the industrial office power systems were back online after 48 hours so at least we could take some comfort in heat and free diet-Pepsi’s for eight to ten hours a day. We held out as long as we could but eventually we were just getting very worn.

The low point for me definitely happened on day four. I was commuting back to a friend's place in Bellevue by bus and had to transfer downtown on 4th Ave. While I was waiting for my bus a security guard asked me if some bags in front of his building belonged to me. They were actually the property of the homeless guy standng right next to me.

There were definitely some bright spots during this period however. In situations like this everyone feels like they’re in it together and will get through it together. I can remember reading a post on www.sundrymourning.com where the blog author invited anyone still without power to give her a call and stay the night.

We called in a few favors and stayed with some very gracious friends for the next three days. It was wonderful except that they’re on the exact opposite side of the metro area from our offices and we don’t have a car these days. The commute took between two and three hours daily. There was a very palpable sense of “how long can this possibly last?” But finally we received that wonderful call from our landlady that there was a rumor that power had been restored to our block. We were anxious to see this first hand so I took a bus from the office to confirm and so it was. We’re not as tough as we thought on land.

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