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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Then came the Darkness- Irene 28-30th August

When I wrote earlier " Dark Inevitability", I didn't mean what we in are going through in CT at this time, while the forces of nature had largely spared us (at least as per news correspondents ), it was Sunday afternoon that we lost power.

Weather was calm outside, the relentless rain had stopped and I was/ am staying at a hotel so didn't expect this coming at all. The entire area around the hotel in Manchester went into a blackout.

There I was in a hotel which seemed like a bates motel, the only lights working were the exit signs in the corridors, hours passed and so did the night. I couldn't believe that we had a outage of more than 16hrs already and without access to new on TV or Internet connectivity it was like being cut off from the rest of the world. Luckily my Blackberry had some charge but knowing the international roaming I was a little hesitant.

Morning 29th I checked with very friendly staff on any news around the power cuts and seemed like the power companies were following he no commitment policy with a week as the timeline and it took the hotel another 12 hours to decide that they are going to get a generator.

I made it to office after a very cold shower and was very optimistic about getting back to a well light room with hot water for a shower. My enthusiasm was met with empathetic staff at the hotel and emergency torch arrangements. 48 hrs in the dark in one of globally reputed hotel chains on East Coast, i wouldn't have imagined that but it was once that I realised there's nothing and no one who can't be humbled by "forces of nature"

It's 30th afternoon and the hotel still doesn't have power, now I am starting to wonder were we really prepared ? What if Irene was actually a category 2 Hurricane when it hit CT ? Where the businesses and individuals really ready for this?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene no more a Hurricane but a Tropical Storm- 28th Aug 11

Well not sure what that means, Irene declared a Tropical storm. Risk of it intensifying has gone down, there are people with their surf boards on the Long Beach but here at CT the rains are relentless and probably strongest in the last couple of days.
Continuous downpour continues and I can only wonder how much water clogging would have happened in the low lying areas. City officials seem to be venturing out but seems primarily as a precautionary measure. The fallen tree is not yet something being cleared.

There are smiles on faces of anyone you meet, the fear of it being any worse is gone. I was met with a smiling face at the hotel restaurant where all those who were stranded because of the storm had a good meal and the chat was on. Voices were a bit louder and laughs were shared over a relaxed breakfast.

While it's not over seems the spirit of the people is lifted and Irene may dampen the ground further, there aren't gonna be any more dampening of the spirit !!!

Did it really hit New York ? Seems it's impacted more in CT and NJ- 28th Aug

Well the scare to New York City seems to have passed. High tide is pushing back, winds are not as bad and New York city has managed with very little damage, if any.

Some may continue to argue if all the emergency declaration and evacuation was not needed and was Governor being cautious after his delayed action this winter. Well it's not for me to decide on what was prudent and let's leave that debate outside this blog.

I still have all the water and food stocked, would be more than happy it doesn't come to using it. I am in CT so still in the way of the storm and it hasn't stopped raining here since 14 hrs continuously.

What is surprising though is that there hasn't been much coverage on what is happening in NJ and CT. There will me serious flooding problems  if it continues to come done at the same pace. Thousands of people have loss power in the 2 states and continue to survive in the dark. See the trees, camera difficult to be held straight due to the wind.

Recovery from the damage caused may take a few days, power companies would have to restore power. Government agencies would have the clear the roads. I don't want to sound as if it's over, most parts of CT and northern part of NJ is still facing strong winds and heavy rains but if the weathermen are to be believed this may not get any worse as the Irene seems to be exhausted with all the heavy lifting it has already done.

The rains in these states may be at record levels by the time this is over. Look out for the river flooding in the New England states !!!

I am stuck in my hotel room and still have power but there is no way that anyone is going to venture today. I am not cribbing about it, being in a safe place. Everyone is hoping that it will pass by the evening and then it will take some time to assess the damage/ disruption.
Boston is next in Irene's path and I hope it doesn't pick up strength as it moves.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Driving through JFK (New York to CT)- 27th August

The flight landed at JFK around 11:30 am EST. It was on time and it was probably one of the fastest walk through immigration counters I have ever experienced.

As I walked through to the immigration counters realised that there were no airplanes parked at JFK accept for one cargo flight which looked like it was getting ready to take off.

You could sense the tension and concern that people were experiencing. The custom official said " All the best, you're lucky to be on the last flight, we're shutting JFK after this"; determined to be in and out of NY quickly, I moved briskly through the airport to my baggage area and was hoping the cab service I had booked was there to get me.

Luckily a very pleasant person with my name was there to get me out from the airport, my curiosity was its peak and natural set of questions were , What time is the storm supposed to hit NY ? Is it still category 3? How is the traffic?
All my questions got answered and the driver was sweet enough to talk me through how people are preparing. Bottom line was:
-The storm had slowed down, now it was supposed to hit NY Sunday morning.
- It was turned to category 2 ; which is 60mph winds
- He filled me on the fact they had a lot of rain last month and that makes the trees unstable with high winds
- High tide tonight (new moon night in this part of the world) which can result in strong storm surge and result in flooding
- People had evacuated the Hampton's and all low lying areas of New York.
- NY subway systems were expected to be flooded and were shut down., which hasn't happened in a long time. It's a big deal as it's the life line for new yorkers and they usually don't own cars

It was more information that i bargained for, leaving me in contemplative mood and there was enough time to spend contemplating. It was a 3 hr drive to CT, I was staying in a long stay hotel in Manchester and getting to the safety of the hotel was my first priority.

As we drove through new york, i couldn't help but realise that the streets were unusually empty. people in general were taking the warning seriously. Then there were couple of traffic jams and both due to accidents, giving a slight sense of panic with drivers as it continued to rain.

The sky didn't look calm, it was dark for early evening and fast moving clouds looked ominous.

I crossed Stamford and the waterfront which is being considered as one of the areas under threat of flooding. Passing through some stores I still saw a lot of people at a walmart and other stores and my driver filled me in that people are preparing for the worse (stocking up on bread and bottled water)

There was a sense of urgency that set in as i realised that next week could be days of no power even at the hotel and worse case if a smaller tornado hits like any other place it could tear apart the place.

Edgy with all these thoughts listening what my driver was prepared for (batteries, torch, water and food). I wanted to get to the hotel and see how I can hold myself for next couple of days.

I reached the hotel checked- in , got a room on the ground floor and then headed out to see what I can get as emergency stock. This is a little unusual for someone like me, I am usually not so proactive. Thinking am i over- reacting ? I got to a nearby target .... guess what I wasn't alone.

There was no bottled water, they had run out of it. I got some juices and picked some snacks and headed back. It was 7pm EST and there was nothing else I could do but sit back and wait.

I switched on the TV and there it was NC had started to take the beating and then they showed Time Square (place where you can walk 5 mt without stepping on someone's shoes), it was deserted, there were a handful of cars and it was pouring.
Everyone including news correspondent were concerned more about high winds tunnelling through the high rise buildings and if hit in full force, what this hurricane can do to these high rise buildings.

New York had come to a stand still !!!! Never thought I would say that

CT was expecting a direct hit, my hotel was 30miles from the path of the storm but I knew Manchester was i bit higher and away from water which gave some safety.
Governors of all states were coming out saying the time to evacuate was over and urging people to stay indoors.
The hit at North Carolina was in progress and now the expectation was less the wind damage but more flooding and falling trees, which seemed much better than earlier expected.

It was midnight and now the storm was expected to hit NYC at 8 am (Sunday morning) which meant maybe around 10am to noon on Sunday where I was..

It was time to sit tight and wait.....

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dark Inevitability- Worst Friday Night Ever- 26th Aug

Well Friday night dinner was done, emails completed and i was constantly on BA's flight status.

Finally i saw BA cancelling flights to JFK airport, by 10 pm UK time all flights for Sunday 28th were cancelled, I had a mixed feeling of relief and then a question would i get stuck ?; surely there wont be chance i will get a flight on Tuesday as the whole world would want travel once this ends.

Uncertainty had set in, restless at 11pm not knowing if i was flying in the morning. Continuously looking at flight status and weather forecasts etc. There it was 6 states on east coast had declared emergency which included NC, Maryland, NY, NJ and CT. Guess what these are 3 of the states i had to go, now the restlessness was turning to nervousness. There came news on the internet showing the confirmed path of the hurricane.

It was 1 am in London and i had packed my bags, preparing myself to whatever my flight carrier decides, was quite sure at this point that i am going to be stuck in London as British Airways has cancelled all flight leaving after noon on Sat till Sunday night. This is when i decided i would take a nap and get up at 4 to check what the status shows.

Well call it luck, fate or Irene calling, mine was the only flight operating to JFK on Saturday. Reluctant, still not sure if the flight would actually leave i headed towards Heathrow and checked in.
In the waiting lounge i was met with nervous smiles, people discussing the recent news. I- phones and i- pads were being over worked and i got a peek of face time in action(quite like Skype).

I was at the airport a little despondent that i couldn't speak to my son and talk about the whole situation I was in and then I encountered some teenage exuberance. I teenage girl, travelling alone walked past me, smiling ear to ear - no sign of worry and stated "What do ya reckon, are we landing in New york or somewhere else". I smiled back without responding but there it was it kicked another set of thoughts which were obvious and worse than ever.

As I took my seat on the flight, suddenly i got a sense of calmness and it was to fate from here on. I was flying from the safety of London to the eye of the storm in East coast.

Is it just Paranoia???- 26th August

Thursday night there was no detective series, no comedy episodes but just the news and tracking Irene. Friday morning woke up with a back ache, didnt have a peaceful sleep, after all the facts, news kept flashing:

- First Hurricane since 1992 projected to hit New York City.
- Category 3 storm, wind speed expected around 130 mph , which means distruction.
- Governor of North Carolina declares emergency and orders evacuation in the low lying areas.
- Hurricane as big as this hitting areas of NY, NJ, MA and CT, the most poulated areas in east coast, it could give anyone sleepless nights.
- New York governor was holding off and not ordering evacuation just yet. Well I havn't heard of new york being evacuated in recent history. If you have, I am ignorant

My Internet searches gave a lot more information than the television in London, infact most people were not aware about this just yet.

I went about my meetings and review calls to keep my mind off this and again few things keeping ringing on the back of my head "to predict the path of the hurricane is not easy, specially not 72 hrs prior"

I had a saturday early morning flight and as I wrapped up my meetings on friday, Hurricane Irene was slowly creeping towards the East coast gaining momentum and size.

I closed by laptop for the day and prepared to head back to the appartment and start packing for my morning flight and as it happens most often there was one last chat i had to have in the break-out area of my office. (Break out area is the coffee area with television around)

During the course of the conversation with Romesh, we discussed potential impact the hurricane can have on East coast and he said " You know how paranoid these guys can get ". I glanced over his shoulder to take a look at the news and there it was. They had confirmed the path , Irene was going to hit New York City on Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

Well is it paranoia or are we just being to cool above some of these things. Dont think any of us back home in India has every experienced a tropical storm, let alone a hurricane. Well I decide to take a long sigh and head back to the appartment and track the flight status.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Start of an Unpleasant Dream- 21st Aug - 25th Aug

I am a regular business traveller, who has visited london and US east coast atleast a dozen times before this one, which I currently am on.

Flew out of my home country and reached london on 21st August and Monday to Thursday it was business as usual visiting clients, attending business meeting, meeting my team based in UK.
It was a humble routine during the weekdays, get back from work in the 1 bed room appartment fix something to eat and start flipping some TV channels and ofcourse completing any pending emails from the team back home.

Wednesday (24th August) night after some back to back CSI editions (a detective series on TV) decided to flip the channel to some news and I see Irene making some headlines. Talks about a hurricane hitting Bahamas, a sombre feeling sets in and i move on.

Thursday morning- I go to canary wharf to meet one of my old collegues (literally:-)) and good friend, we chat for a little while over a smoke. While we were reflecting on some good times spend together and feeling nostalgic about some good old times, suddenly Peter (my good old pal) made a statement "you're brave taking on mother nature". I knew he's talking about me travelling to NYC on saturday as i remembered excerpts from the morning paper.
While I had no intention of taking on mother nature, I had the urge to come up with a smarter one and i responded "All in the call of duty".

On my way back to my office in central london, I did everything to get information on Hurricane Irene- newspaper, googled on my blackberry even chatted with strangers. I realised Peter had just put something in my head.

Back in my office in central london, I met some of my team members and then asked some of my collegues who stay connected better than I do and it was all very light. Just to be sure, before I left for the day I looked up my Bristish Airways flights and all flights on Saturday and Sunday (27th and 28th) showed as operating on time. There was a sigh of comfort knowing that the flights would be cancelled if they see a risk.