BY Dave Yates
Special to CONTRACTOR
YORK, PA. — Hurricane Isabel carried with her a silver lining of sorts: Neighbors who seldom, if ever, had spoken to each other suddenly found it easy to introduce themselves and share stories about their experiences as they went about picking up the debris left in the storm’s wake.
Like most people in the path of Isabel, we had prepared by bringing in lawn furniture and other items that might become airborne. Schools were canceled in advance of Mother Nature’s fury and many businesses decided to close. The end of our workday Sept. 18 saw cloudy skies with sustained winds gusting to 20 miles per hour — windy but not threatening.
Light rain fell as the evening wore on and everyone waited in anticipation of Isabel’s arrival. The eye had shifted toward the opposite end of Pennsylvania. Our power went off at 6:20 p.m., which seemed odd given the mild winds at that time.
When power remained off at 9 p.m., we retrieved a generator from the shop. By midnight, the sustained winds were about 50 mph and the trees surrounding our pond, 70-ft. tall eastern hemlocks, looked like they were doing a St. Vitus’s dance! By 1 a.m. Sept. 19 the winds had subsided and, aside from a few tree limbs, little damage had been done. At 2:30 a.m., we awoke to howling winds that sounded like a freight train.
In the morning, a quick glance across the pond revealed at least one downed tree, which had somehow vaulted over others in its headfirst dive at the water’s edge. As I ventured out to see how we were going to attempt extracting this 40-ft. section of pine from the other trees, I became aware that the neighbors’ towering 100-ft. tall sycamore was no longer standing.
In its descent from vertical, it had landed parallel to their bedroom — not more than 15 ft. away. Further investigation revealed we weren’t going to be at work on time as there were trees down across the lane that leads to our driveway.
During the previous night, the 911 center handled almost 1,000 calls for downed trees and loss of power. Until 1 a.m., it had just a few hundred more calls than on any night and had begun to relax as the winds subsided and incoming calls reduced to just a trickle.
Then all hell broke loose between 2 and 3:30 a.m. when a blast of stiff winds with gusts in excess of 70 mph swept through. By all accounts, more than 80,000 people in our area were now without power, which represented exactly half of Metropolitan Edison’s York County customers. News accounts reported that more than 500,000 people were without power in our region of Pennsylvania.
Numerous delays were encountered during the night as emergency service personnel waited for power company crews to disable high-tension lines prior to cutting trees or passing where downed electrical lines could pose an electrocution hazard.
Sept. 20 dawned brightly and the generator was once again started up to preserve refrigerated foods. The local news held several reports of carbon monoxide poisonings from generators and, sadly, the deaths of several who were overcome by this silent killer. We began sharing our generator with the neighbors as we rotated refrigerator and freezer loads. The evening news reports detailed lots of food being spoiled as refrigerators warmed above 40° F for extended periods.
Sept. 21 once again heard the neighborhood abuzz with generators! But come Sunday night, our power was restored — or so we thought. On Sept. 22, it went off for another 36 hours! The local newspaper published an interview with a Met-Ed official who stated all was well and that only 30 homes remained without power.
Patience was being stretched just about as far as the truth, or so it seemed.
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler Inc., a contracting firm in York, Pa.