Ducking the Storm

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 11, 2001

We made it through our first collision with storms of the tropical persuasion this week, and honestly, we fared pretty well.

I recall when Opal came calling, and it was the first hurricane I actually took an active role in.

There was once a hurricane that came up the Atlantic coast when I was a pizza delivery driver in New Jersey, and that jewel came straight into the mouth of the Hudson River, and grabbed every power line for miles, wiping out much of North Jersey's electricity for two weeks.

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But the only reason it rings a memory with me at all is because we were unable to work for two weeks - one, because we had no power, and the second because our food distributors had to recover from their power losses before they could ship stock.

Opal, on the other hand, was totally different.

What I lacked in knowledge of the South and tropical storms, I gained in experience.

Working for City Ambulance at the time, I was on duty at our station located at the corner of Flowers Street and West Commerce.

All the TV sets were tuned to The Weather Channel, and we paid as much attention to the pretty meteorologists of the female persuasion as we usually did, and the storm was a woman, too, for sure.

Beginning that morning, I was sent to our Evergreen branch office, where I went to the Emerald City's hospital and picked up a six-year-old boy with a terrible seizure problem.

Heading south from Greenville, my partner Floyd Wright and I had no problems getting there, as the traffic was all heading north - and buddy, that was an understatement!

I think maybe once we were able to see the pavement on the northbound side, but it was just a brief glance, because traffic was otherwise bumper-to-bumper.

We ended up leaving Evergreen to go to Birmingham, where our patient would be cared for at Children's Hospital. But the Interstate was not a viable option, because you could not get near it in Evergreen for all the traffic.

So, we headed up the Interstate's predecessor, U.S. Hwy. 31. That was a horse of another color, altogether.

While the traffic was still packed, due to the mass exodus from the coast, we were able to make it from Evergreen to McKenzie in about 45 minutes (usually a 15-minute trip), and from there, we had police escorts all the way through Georgiana to the Interstate on-ramp, traveling on the wrong side of the highway (naturally it was clear, everyone was going north).

Traffic tooled along pretty slow for us on the Interstate, so we went most of the way to Ft. Deposit traveling up the emergency shoulders (what would slow us down was merging into traffic to cross bridges - you know, there are sure a lot of little creeks going under the highway), and although we were probably cussed by several drivers, we could not hear them for the drone of our siren.

Long story shortened: it took us eight hours to get from Evergreen to Birmingham to Greenville.

But the worst was yet to come. We still had not seen the storm's impact in Greenville.

Then, when we were passing the Greenville rest area, I got that page from home, saying my phone number, followed by 9-1-1.

Calling to check in, I was told a pine tree had just entered my living room at the Greenville Apartments, through the roof and picture window.

Guess it wanted to get out of the storm.

Placing a few tarps up against the window, we headed to the office.

A thought that never occurred to me prior to that was that there were two sides to everything, including storms.

If you have never seen it, believe me, one minute the rain is moving in one direction, than after a nerve-racking silence (when the eye passes over), it starts back in the opposite direction, with renewed fervor.

We spent the rest of the night trying to get to motorists reportedly having accidents, and oftentimes, we would go a couple of miles, then have to stop, turn around, and find another route, because a tree was down across the road, or wires were dangling in the way of traffic.

Eventually we made it through the night, but not before the power went out (I remember thinking it would be bad if our 200-foot tall radio tower came through the roof of the office).

We had a portable generator at the Greenville office, which was our main station for the southern end of our operations, but our Evergreen office didn't have one, so the next morning, Noah England and I took the trip back to the Emerald City.

Exiting the Interstate in Owassa, we had a county front-end loader leading the way, with a clamp device in place of its bucket.

The operator must have moved 400 trees between there and our station, which was next to the &uot;Power Pig&uot; radio station.

We ended up running our radio transmitter and telephone from an inverter on the ambulance, a device that changes electricity from the engine's electrical system into house current.

And that was the way it was.

Two days later, we were having a pine tree removed from my living room, and all was semi-normal.

But back to Barry. This guy was not as strong, and was broken up before the eye passed north of Evergreen on Monday evening.

Makes one glad for the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared.

Which is what we should all do, in the event that Barry was a warning for his siblings yet to come.

And so, until next week, I'll see you at the sporting events. You'll recognize me; I'm the one way out there, in Deep Left Field.