Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hurricane Party

Unless you live under a rock you have no doubt heard about Hurricane Florence, currently barreling straight toward the Carolinas.  You might think, since I live in the Appalachian foothills of Western N. C., I am safe from the storm, but it's increasingly looking as if that's not the case. Therefore, all Atelier Mandaline shops will close tonight until further notice.

I hate to close up shop because honestly, I need the money and I am just starting to see the typical fall sales increase.  However,  I am all too well aware of the danger we're in. I'm trying not to panic, but the continual resurrection of Fran and Hugo by meteorologists has me scared. In 1996 I experienced the longest night of my life, the time I drove through Hurricane Fran. I was attending university in Greenville (considered part of NC's "Inner Coast") and Fran was supposed to hit us directly. We were told we would be without water or electricity for at least a month. My younger sister was also at ECU and my parents were making me share my car with her (even though I bought the car with my own money, incredibly unfair in my opinion... but that's a story for another day!) and the day Fran came ashore was her day to have the car. I wanted to go inland to our parents' house near Raleigh but she refused to leave and she also refused to bring the car to me. She had all the vast confidence in her knowledge of the typical college freshman and she had determined the storm wouldn't hit her. Besides that, she lived on campus and would have far more access to supplies than I. Finally around 4PM I convinced her to bring the car and I got out of town. 

By the time I made it to Wilson, about 45 minutes away back then, it was apparent I waited too late to leave. The sky was pitch black, as though it were midnight and not 5 PM. Trees were bent nearly prone across  Highway 64 and I had to drive in the center of the road. Rain lashed the windshield in sheets and branches and leaves and even several frogs blew into my windshield and the wipers were as nothing. I was rolling along, blindly,  wondering what on earth I could do. Back then the highway between Wilson and Raleigh was a straight, empty stretch of road through apparent wilderness. I didn't want to face the storm from my car but I couldn't see any gas stations or anywhere I could shelter. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, an 18 wheeler pulled onto the highway in front of me. I could see the truck's tail lights and I pulled up as close behind it as I dared and stuck right behind it, following it all the way to Raleigh (To this day my children love to hear the story of the time my guardian angel saved me in the form of a truck!). There, I had to part with the truck and cut through downtown Raleigh to the bedroom town of Garner. The trouble was so many roads were closed due to flooding I kept getting turned around by police. After three or four detours I was hopelessly lost. The street signs were unreadable, spinning like tops on their poles. I drove on desperately in what I hoped was the right direction when I saw the Rialto theater and realized I was heading the wrong way. I turned around and  after a bit the tall facade of Shelton's Furniture became visible, guiding me. The rest of the drive was a straight shot and I eventually made it. The drive, typically a two hour drive, took more than six hours.

Despite all that the storm hadn't reached its full potential yet. We spent a long and fearful night as it got increasingly worse. I slept in the basement, convinced the skylights in the roof were going to break open. Morning showed trees down everywhere and the entire back yard flooded. We were without power for several days and counted ourselves lucky, since we had water. Many in the area were without water or power for up to a month. It turned out the Fran forecast was completely wrong. It just brushed over the coast and hit Raleigh head-on. I had driven right under it the whole way. I ended up stuck in Garner, meeting the neighbors at our grill in the mornings for coffee, spending the days helping cut and clear fallen trees, taking cold showers at night. The worst part of it all was my sister's extremely annoying smugness for ages and ages afterward!

Fran taught me respect for hurricanes and contempt for meteorological forecasts, and I'll never forget those lessons as long as I live. Now I'm responsible for my children and my house and my business and since my husband is in charge of the power grid for the Carolinas, he will be at work and I will be on my own. We are praying for the best but preparing for the worst. I hope I'll be able to reopen soon.

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