We woke up with no power, phone, or internet, as expected. I was able to make a few short cell phone calls and send text messages until about 9:00 when the signal became hit or miss and often even texts would refuse to send altogether. Contact with friends and family was brief and frequently interrupted by a failing connection but we were able to get word out that we were okay and, more importantly, receive word that everybody in our network of close friends was okay and still had homes to live in. Many people across north Alabama, southern Tennessee and parts of Mississippi and Georgia were not as lucky.
Esther and I let the kids sleep in and started talking through our options. Rumors and speculation about when the power would be back on ranged from four days to two weeks, depending on the source. We had water now, but there was also talk on the radio about rationing as much of that as you had. We had at least two days worth of food in protein bars and camping supplies on hand and could supplement that with another few days of food that we could cook on our camping stove. Thankfully we had not made our “paycheck shopping run”. (Speaking of paychecks, mine had deposited the day before; another small piece of luck.) We could stay and rough it until utilities came back on. We did not have to leave, but we wanted the option to be available.
There was only one thing stopping us from leaving- fuel. The van only had about a quarter of gas in the tank. Esther and I would spend the next four hours driving from town to town looking for a location that had both power and fuel. We found a small station running a single pump on generator power with a $20 limit. We waited in a line of mostly patient people that were being herded by other people in the community along with employees. On our way home a second station was selling a maximum of $40 to a customer. Between the two stops we had a full tank, give or take a gallon.
Another small bit of luck was crossing paths with Co-Worker Bill and lending him some of the cash that we had on hand and picking up a car charger for my phone. This was very fortunate as my outlet charger was at work and the only other means of charging my phone was with the USB cable that was useless without a way to power our computers. Bill had also passed along news earlier that morning that our workplace was closed at least until power could be restored to Huntsville- a date that was largely unknown at the time but estimated to be days in the future.
While we drove around that day we didn't see much more of the damage we'd heard about on the radio. A few downed trees, but no fallen houses. We did continue to add more and more towns to the list of those that had been damaged if not practically decimated. It wasn't until we drove through our neighboring town, not five miles away, that we saw some of the worst of it. We didn't take pictures, and you won't see any in future updates, but if you've watched any of the news on our area or seen any of the photo galleries from the local reports you have some idea of what we saw.
We decided that we would leave in the morning.