As you may recall, April 2011 saw one of the largest and deadliest tornado outbreaks recorded in the USA. This outbreak affected the Southern, Midwestern, and Northeastern United States. Literally hundreds of tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service (NWS), and more than 300 people were killed.
The two harest-hit states were Alabama and Mississippi. Did I mention that I live in Huntsville, Ala.? Our family and friends were very fortunate. We didn't suffer anything as bad as the devastation shown below in our subdivision, but areas close to us were hit very hard indeed.
Before the storm's full wrath unfurled, I was happily ensconced in the command chair in my office. My wife called to say, "The weather is starting to look real bad. You should come home." In my office, I sit with my back to the window. When I'm working, I'm pretty much oblivious to whatever is going on around me, so up until then I really didn't have a clue about what was happening. When I looked out of the window, I thought, "Hmm, that really doesn't look good." I closed everything down, powered everything off, unplugged all my computers, and headed out the door.
On the way home, I noticed that I was down to less than 1/8 of a tank of gas (petrol in the UK). I did think about filling up, but I decided it would wait until the morning. That afternoon and evening, all hell broke loose. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns famously wrote, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft agley" (often paraphrased in English as "The best-laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry").
We do tend to lose power quite often when there's a big storm, but usually it's for no more than an hour or so. This time, one of the tornadoes took out the main power feeds from the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant. As a result, we were without power for 10 days. None of the gas stations could pump gas without electricity, and none of the stores could accept credit or debit cards. Overnight, we had been reduced to a cash (sometimes check, if you were lucky) economy.
One company I still talk about to this day is the Publix supermarket chain. As I wrote in a blog post shortly after the event:
Almost unbelievably, all of their stores in the area were up and running on Thursday – the morning after the storm. Someone told me that soon after reports started coming in on Wednesday about how bad the damage was, Publix had a convoy of tractor trailers loaded with generators on the road. They drove through the night to get their stores powered up by the morning. This was closely followed by other convoys of food, ice, and so forth.
This strikes me as organization of the highest level. Following earlier disasters the folks in charge of Publix have obviously put a lot of planning (and money) into all of this so as to be prepared. Also Home Depot was back in action really quickly. There were a couple of others, but these two companies really were on the ball and I will be giving them a lot of my business in the future.
As I mentioned earlier, we spent 10 days without power. Even toward the end, I was constantly surprised when I went into a room and flicked the light switch without thinking, and nothing happened. Also, I have now enjoyed enough freezing cold showers to last me for the rest of my life.
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