69 MPH Windstorm (and Rain) Leaves a Family in Turmoil

Life a thief in the night, everything went dark and unseen at 11:47 pm Thursday (12-14-06).

I was in the middle of writing an article when it happened. A house that was well lit and humming within minutes took on the feeling of a damp, pitch black cave.

We were advised that a horrific windstorm was coming with rain, and we reacted like most people do: Gee, I wonder if our power will go out? Did we look for flashlights? No. Did we think about water and provisions in case of a real disaster (that would be an earthquake in the middle of a horrific windstorm with rain)? No.

We continued with our usual routine, that is, until the howling wind took out a tree or telephone pole somewhere near, and, bam (like Emeril says on the Food Channel), the lights failed. No wonder.

What hit Western Washington in the Great Pacific Northwest was winds up to 69 mph at nearby McChord Air Force Base and the Defense Department's sprawling Fort Lewis Army Base, home of I Corps, the military's answer to instant readiness for an attack on our country's West Coast .

It was McChord AFB, you may recall, that flew nearly every GI that went to Southeast Asia during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam Conflict. Our area remains a military stronghold that grows year by year as other military installations are being shut down.

This windstorm was a doozy, like Snoopy sitting atop his dog house in the famous Peanuts cartoon strip writing the beginning of his novel, "It was a dark and stormy night."

The house around the corner had a giant, old growth evergreen come crashing down into the bedroom. The house next door to it had another giant evergreen collapse into its front door entry and through the center of the house. In another community a house was literally spilled in half by a powerful evergreen.

We are a half block from Wonderwood Park, the largest city park in Lacey, a city of 32,000+ that is on the grow as cities go. In our upstairs bedroom we could hear the "boom" of a transformer exploding in the night, much like the Army soldiers from Fort Lewis sending off rounds from a 120-millimeter howitzer at the Yelm firing range many miles down the road (a common sound in Lacey).

When we heard the crack of trees in the nearby park breaking, it was all too scary so we picked up our bedding and headed downstairs to the basement rec room. It seemed like a good move to take the lower ground in this case rather than the higher ground, which is usually better in life. Our house is surrounded by giant evergreens.

About 4 am Friday morning, the cement floor felt no softer since the carpeting and cushioning from our living room futon. The wind seemed to have died down something, so we headed back upstairs to sleep, but it was certainly anything but restful.

The next morning the fallen trees and tangled power lines snarled traffic, closed schools and businesses and, with freezing weather here to stay for at least another day, raised concerns for thousands of people without heat and phone service.

As a senior citizen I still have a land line with phone service in power outouts, but I remain amazed at the number of youngger people who operate solely with cordless phones which are useless in a power failure. Almost as many as 30% of our population now use only cell phones that are not always reliable.

The walloping winds in Western Washington (I love alliteration) left one million of us without power. That would have been the same one million people who were looking for an open restaurant Friday morning for breakfast.

What few restaurants were open because of generators or restored power had their busiest day of the year. Lines at every fast food place that was open were litered up 20 cars deep and counting. By evening the deli counter at Albertson's, one of the few grocery stores open, had a line of people 15 deep waiting for fresh chicken to pop out of the deep fat fryers.

A cold but anxious calm filled the air as the customers saw cooked chickens flying over the counter as fast as deli workers could take them out of the giant rotisserie and put them in plastic containers for easy carrying.

Gas stations were flooded with customers who did not want to get caught with empty gas tanks if the power outage lasted more than 24 hours. In some other communities the police had to be called out to maintain control of rambunctious motorists trying to cut into line for gasoline (some people in our society are rights takers rather than rights observers).

Our streets were jammed with more traffic than anytime during the 30-year history of the city. People were on the move as there was nothing to do at home in the dark and cold.

Thankfully, my daughter and her husband Tom (and our 16-month-old granddaughter Kira) invited us to sleep over on Friday night.

Accommodations were really great as they have a complete bathroom with their guest room. We watched a movie in their home theater while munching on popcorn and enjoyed a family sleepover. We are so blessed that both of our children and their families are within 20 minutes of us.

And so I was able to return today with power restored and an Internet connection that allows me to continue my writing.

Ah, life is good again as the winds moved on and the calm returns.

Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley