The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia

In late October, yet another tropical storm headed for the Southern coastal states, and eventually struck the Florida panhandle, a very large portion of Georgia from coast to Appalachian Mountains, Alabama, and Louisiana. The storm was named Zeta (all regular storm names have been used up) and the storm namers have switched to the Greek alphabet.  

So we are to get a storm with considerable wind and rain. I know this drill. Atlanta is beautiful city, with lots and lots of trees. Wind wreaks havoc with deciduous trees in spring and summer, ice coats evergreens in winter and sends large limbs snapping to the ground, or house, or car, or whatever is beneath them. The power lines in my neighborhood are above ground, easy targets for toppling trees. In addition to losing power from damaged electrical lines, sometimes the power goes off here without any particular reason. Keeps us all on our toes. A little Georgia Power humor.

Time to get ready for the storm. My indoor preparations included gathering up all available candles. I am extremely fond of scented candles, and when they are all fired up during one of these power outages the house smells wonderful. And is reminiscent of a séance. Now for flashlights. I have two Ryobi battery-powered types, but both batteries had fully discharged themselves prior to this episode. Rats. Then there’s a relatively small UltraFire that is so fancy it’s undependable in my hands. Apparently it will blink, strobe, send Morse Code (kidding) but only emit a feeble constant beam when most needed.

Then there is my personal favorite; a huge, heavy LuxPro, that can be used for self-defense if necessary, as well as light. In four powerless days I developed the habit of carrying it with me everywhere I went as a talisman of sorts, from sundown to sunrise. It always works, although I can’t remember when I last replaced the giant batteries it needs. What a great piece of equipment. Outdoor preparations for the expected high winds were easier but required a bit more athleticism. Adirondack chairs and two small tables had to be wrestled into position, close to the house, and then leaned against a wall. Got that done. No storm shutters to put up.

Night fell in the usual way, but winds were picking up. I went to bed and fell asleep easily enough. I was awakened around 4am by the wind howling loudly. The sound of cracking branches was most unnerving. I scurried into the basement and just got settled when lights flickered on and off for a few times, and then settled into the “off” position. WiFi connection was lost. I waited, no trees fell on the house that I heard.

The storm passed through by dawn, and all my neighbors were out to inspect the damage. What a mess. Broken trees were suspended on sagging power lines. A medium-sized (dead) tree had fallen across my driveway, smashing a small stone wall and blocking me in. A few intrepid souls walked long distances up and down our street and weren’t electrocuted. They described many, many trees down, and speculated it would take more than a quick repair to restore power. News of widespread damage throughout the state filtered in, each report more discouraging than the last. Time to dig in for a long haul.

I have gas-powered water heaters and a gas cook top. The former allowed me to take hot showers, but without electricity I couldn’t dry my hair. Driving around with my head stuck out the car window seemed impractical, and I couldn’t get out of garage anyway. Charging my cell phone and iPad was a huge thrash. I plugged these devices one by one into my car’s power cord with the motor running. I’d managed to get both garage doors open earlier so I wasn’t in danger of asphyxiating myself.

By day three the inside temperature was steadily declining, so I embarked on getting a fire going. I brought in wood, stacked it in what I thought was a suitable formation, and even checked to make sure the flue was open. Genius! I ignited the gas fire starter without blowing myself to kingdom come. All went swimmingly for about an hour, then the ceiling-mounted fire alarm began shrieking, emitting nerve-damaging, ear-splitting noises. For God’s sake—what’s next? The house was filling with smoke, but nothing was on fire. Maybe the chimney had become obstructed? I did not want the fire department to come. I notified the security system that all was OK. More or less. I was simply vibrating with stress.

The panel for controlling alarms (doors opened, ambulance needed, etc.) didn’t respond to frantic poking. It needs power, as it turns out. That sounds like a design flaw to me. I opened all windows and doors, but of course the ceiling fans were inoperable. Rhythmic shrieking continued. I moved a stool beneath the alarm box and flapped a large beach towel at it. Only a 20-30 second respite was accomplished. That did it. I planned to rip the battery out of the stupid thing one I located it, and climbed up of the stool yet again. At the bottom of the alarm box was a button. I pushed that and the noise stopped.

One problem solved, several more to overcome. Pray for me!

2 thoughts on “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia

  1. We were hiking in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, near Gatlinburg when this storm hit Atlanta. We had just the slightest breeze and some rain in the mountains. No power outage or downed trees in our neighborhood on Lake Oconee. So glad you are safe and did not have a tree intruding through your roof. We hope your power has now been restored and your driveway cleared by now.


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