Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ch 4

n bad road conditions, this was not a hill you looked forward to tackling anyway. This time of year there was some left over sand from road crews, but even then you’d want a run at it. The safety railing on the side had fallen over for the most part, and it looked as if part of it had sloughed downwards with a long crack pretty much going straight up the center of the road. With a muttered “Oh this is going to be awful” I realized I basically had no way out of this obstacle except back across the creek and more miles to pick through on a long detour. I told the guys to give me time to get up, then come up one at a time, just in case. I’d wait up beyond the brow of the hill out of the way on the right if I could.

Leaving the truck in four wheel drive high, I put it gear, and with a prayer backed up as far as I could get to the bridge approach to make a run at it. Reaching out to pull little Jethro close to me, I gave it one heck of a gun, and up we went, engine whistling and dust flying behind me. The truck lurched from side to side but I didn’t lose traction when I was forced to straddle the crack and I popped up over the hill and coasted to a stop. Nearly bawling in relief, I hugged Jethro, got out and checked the big dog. The poor thing was a nervous wreck, shaking and giving his little worried whines. With feet splayed and legs too, he had somehow managed to stay on his feet through all of that. I jogged back to the crest of the hill, waved the okay, and watched as both trucks made it up without stopping. Dave drifted to a stop along side, and asked me where I was headed. I told him, and he said “Good, we can pair up, I go as far as Vine” The other driver, whose name turned out to be Gray, thanked us both and then said he only needed to go another mile or so, he lived near the senior center. After shaking hands all around, we set off.

For a while, I thought I would have fairly smooth sailing going home. I flipped on the radio and heard that the time for the tidal surge/tsunami had passed and that damage reports were trickling in. Several planes were in the air to assess damage and announcements were going to made every 15 minutes on the Emergency Broadcast System. The Governor had already asked for a disaster declaration, and so forth. I was following along behind Dave and my thoughts began to wander as we picked our way around split and tilted lengths of pavement, or took detours onto the bike path, and went around stalled or abandoned cars and trucks-a few of which had obviously gone off the road during the main event and crashed. In one spot we were forced to drive completely around a stretch of power poles with lines down by crossing a community ball field parking lot, that had luckily been pretty much cleared of snow. A number of people were on foot, and of course quite a few dirt bikes and ATVs were out as well, people going to safety I presume. I finally noticed that the dash clock showed it had been over two hours since I had left the shop-I had about five more miles to go as we were just coming up to the grade leading down to Fairview Loop and the convenience store there.

Suddenly, the brake lights lit up in front of me and I slammed to a stop right behind Dave. He got out and motioned me forward too, so I did the same, walking up to see what the problem was. Not another 60 yards ahead of us was a big tangle of wrecked vehicles-basically blocking the entire width of the road. A couple people looked to be stuck on either side, trying to mud bog it with family sedans. With a muttered oath, I knew what we had to do to get around, and told Dave to follow me. Back into our trucks we went and I pulled a quick three point and took the first turn down into the subdivision frontage road along KGB road proper. I was stunned at the amount of damage I could see to the fancy new houses along there-busted windows, siding popped off, garage doors sprung and items knocked over and jumbled up. A few people were sitting outside, waiting for what I wasn’t sure and they watched us drive by vacantly. At the stop sign, I could see beyond to the wreck area to the road easily enough and it looked like we could sneak a path through between the mailboxes and the ditch there if we were careful. I told Dave what I planned and lead off, negotiating the tight fit with only one small clang as a mirror clipped a mailbox. Once through, I pulled on ahead and stopped on the slope to wait. Behind Dave there turned out to be a handful of vehicles, so I watched them blast right on by. Like them, I was in a hurry to get home too.

I asked Dave if he wanted me to lead and he agreed, although he said he should stop and help clear the wrecked cars. I looked at the mess and thought to myself it would take several wreckers a few hours to untangle it all, at best, and passed that along. There were only a few drivers hanging out by their cars and trucks anyway, and he agreed. With that, we headed on out towards home.

The gas station was a shambles, as was the liquor store. Some clerks had stayed and were working at getting people what they needed without much fuss from what I could see. I was amazed, but then realized that there wasn’t much else they could do, otherwise they would be looted by someone, or worse. The mystery of the order was revealed when I saw two guys with shotguns standing at each entrance. That’ll work, was my thought.

We made the next three miles or so without incident, easy as can be with only a few spots where we had to make small detours. The large bulk grocery store was obviously closed, with a couple pickups parked across the glass doors, with what were probably armed guards. There was a small knot of people gathered and I didn't like the looks of the whole thing and kept going. The largish expanse of gravel hill on the north side of the roadway nearest Vine Road had slumped pretty badly, pretty much covering the entire road. By the time we approached, it was obvious that quite a few vehicles had driven over the loose gravel slope, and that each passing set of tires had caused more material to slide downhill. But, there had been worked into the surface, a set of tracks to follow so after checking for oncoming traffic I headed across and made it with only a few short spots feeling uncomfortably soft under the wheels.

With that, we approached the well known intersection. Easing to a stop I was discouraged to see both stop light cross members down, and a tangle of power poles and lines had caught on them, halfway down to the ground. Even the tsunami warning siren tower was canted off vertical and looked damaged. Several trucks were stopped on the far side, and a few were hung up on Vine, as there seemed to be no way around this mess either. The coffee shop looked to be partly off its foundation but I pulled into the parking area anyway and stopped. Pretty soon it began filling up behind me, and I realized I would be stuck there, about a mile from home if I didn’t figure our way out of this. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ch 3

Ch 3

Thirteen and a half miles is a cake walk, a 20  minute drive on any day. If I leave home at the right time, I can sail through all but one stoplight on my way to work, but will catch half of them on the way home.   It takes 45 minutes on a day with really bad roads-ice, blowing snow, things like that. On this day, it was a mix of pedal to the metal and inching through debris, downed power lines, detours, and go arounds that taxed my knowledge of roads, trails, creeks, bridges and my memory to the max.  I knew my husband would be worried, but at least he was safe at work on the North Slope. We’d never really discussed in detail about what to do should we have some sort of disaster, but he did know I would get Joey and be at home. Somehow. 

I turned the radio back on and found another AM station on the air:

“KENI 650, we’re live with updates on the quake that just occurred.  The Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has issued an update, The center is advising residents to prepare for aftershocks following today's magnitude 8 plus, with some likely to be very strong. One large aftershock of 7.9 has already occurred……….”  I hurriedly turned the dial back to 750 and listened with a sickening feeling to the list of damage already being reported: Parks and Glenn Highways impassable, with the Knik Arm bridges being down or gone. Overpasses collapsed, buildings in Anchorage down and some burning, port possibly taking heavy damage as well. Many fires, roads wiped out, panic spreading quickly, and casualties starting to be reported. All emergency systems functioning on generator power, with National Guard units already being called in for help. Residents were being urged to stay in their homes or where they were if safe, and if not, to head to the schools where the Red Cross was being mobilized to set up shelters. 

I was pretty lucky that the leaning  power poles and sagging or downed lines were on the south side of the arterial, otherwise I would have been forced into picking my way through connected subdivisions to the south. Most of the traffic was also inching along, everyone being fairly polite about it, except at one intersection-there, someone had bailed out and was waving traffic through on foot. Brave man, was all I could think as I braked and then did a California roll right on through. Several places required some skill to negotiate stretches of busted up or tilted pavement but luckily the rotting snow banks alongside the roadway presented no huge obstacle. 

I made it to the main interchange with the Parks Highway relatively quickly. The two malls were a mess, vehicles had been smacked together, people were dazed and wandering around, lots of yelling and I heard the occasional popping of a firearm.  I had seen plenty of fires in the residential neighborhoods on the way, but nothing had caught at the malls-a small wonder. Oh great, just what we need, idiots with firearms and no patience I thought. Slowing to take a good look at the Glennwood Bypass bridge, my heart sank. Fully half of it was completely off the support pillars and hanging by twisted bits of rebar, above the railroad tracks below. One unfortunate vehicle was hanging partway into the void, but the doors were open on the minivan and I couldn’t see anyone on foot.  With the bypass being built on a compound angle to begin with, and the lower section-or north side gone, that left no way to get up that hill. As I watched, a couple cars turned off the Parks and were brought to a halt at the sight. Okay, then, Plan B it is, I thought to myself, right after one errand. I swung right into a mall parking lot and made my way to the pet store. 

The young employees were frightened, and with the power out, the windows that remained had left the place a cavernous, dimly lit space that was rather spooky. All the other customers present had scrambled out and away, leaving the four youngsters at a loss as to what to do. Two were busy trying to take care of the miscellaneous birds, reptiles, and whatnot they kept for resale, and the other two were in a heated argument over whether to walk away or not. I just walked right in and helped them figure it out, first by selling me dog food with the cash I had on hand. Then, I told them to lock up their tills, and find all the wood boards, pallets, and any wooden sheeting they had and bring it forward to seal the windows and doors with. One young girl took it upon herself to load up as many critters as she could, along with bedding and feed and I was thinking that was a futile waste of energy, but her choice. In 15 minutes we had the place pretty well buttoned up and they thanked me and scattered to their vehicles and were gone. Ruing that I had forgotten to ask for help loading the dog food, I muscled the bags on top of the hay, all eight of them, and used another cargo strap to ratchet them down firmly. 

Leaving, I was dismayed to see that the anchor grocery store had closed up and had stationed people in front of the doors. That explained the nearly empty parking lot, but I didn't think they'd be able to stave off a huge rush, sure to come. Of course, with the light poles cockeyed, busted pavement everywhere, and some sort of water leak along side the building, I didn't think they'd be opening any time soon anyway. 

Stopping at the highway, I had to wait a minute or two for traffic to clear as folks were having to detour around a downed pole that had fallen across three lanes. It was creating a bottleneck there, but luckily I found a small break in traffic and stomped on the accelerator, making a left onto the Parks Highway southbound. With some very careful maneuvering, I was able to get to the top of the hill and make a right onto the road that lead to Glennwood, and began cautiously picking my way along, as a portion of the roadway had slumped or sloughed off on the left. I was not the only person to have figured this out, as I was in line behind a couple other pickups. In a caravan of sorts, we made it to the left over the railroad tracks. Looking down them, I could only think it was going to be a good long time before the railroad was functioning again-they were warped and twisted and a couple had even popped loose and were sticking up at odd angles. 

Proceeding into the subdivision, the roadway surface was heaved and cracked, all sorts of angles but nothing so big a person couldn’t manage to drive over or around them. I was third in line behind a Dodge pickup when we all were forced to stop at the creek side bridge-which looked impassable. We all got out to take a look, and to discuss how to get across the once placid, low creek which was now muddied and running higher than normal. As I watched the waters swirl and tumble it occurred to me that debris wouldn’t be far behind and I mentioned this to the other three drivers. The second truck was a high job with four wheel drive and a winch on the front. The 30 something year old driver was a reedy, high energy type and he was anxious to give it go if the first truck would back out of his way. He promised to wait on the other side and we’d use his winch on our rigs if we got stuck.  I pointed out that I had noticed that the creek bed was very soft before, and perhaps the downstream side would be better as it was slightly wider with lower banks.  The first guy had no idea, he was just used to taking the road as a shortcut when traffic was bad and had never paid attention. The driver of the second rig had been over the creek on an ATV and agreed with me, so we got out of his way so he could position for a run across. Holding my breath, I watched as he dropped the truck into 4 low, popped the clutch and began down over the brushy bank.  With water and ice chunks spraying off on both sides he wallowed across like a tank without stopping, barely getting his running boards wet in the process. He pulled out the other side and stopped on the punky snow,  then turned around to point the truck towards the new crossing.  I looked back at the first rig and saw a tricked out fancy truck with all the bling and a nervous, scared mid 20s driver to manage the crossing.  I piped up that I would go next since I had four wheel drive and plenty of pulling power to spare.  With a nod, I jumped back into the truck, pushing the dog over out of my way. I managed to back up without smacking into anything, then saw that my longer wheelbase was going to be an issue when the wheels dropped into the creek bed itself-I ran a pretty good chance of getting hung up there if I slowed down the slightest. I rolled down the window and shouted to the driver across the creek to get the heck out of the way, found the 4 wheel drive, popped it into low range, and waited for space on the other side. 

With my mental toes and fingers crossed, I revved up the engine and let off the brakes, and the truck surged forward into the creek. My stomach dropped as the front end did and then the back end followed, scrambling to find traction. I eased off the throttle a tad, felt the rear tires bite again, and powered on. I aimed for a spot just to the side of the first driver and it was a good thing I did. The water splashed up onto the bank had made it very slick and I darned near got stuck getting out when I lost traction on the rear end coming out.  A little measured throttle work and I was out, on the other side, and plowing to a stop.  Letting go of the steering wheel took a little doing, I needed to catch my breath anyway.  I hopped out of the truck and the first guy and I had a quick discussion on how to get the other truck over without it getting stuck.  Finally we decided the best thing to do would be to run out the winch first, and have the guy attach it to the tow hooks in front. While this was done, I got my delivery truck out of the way and facing towards the hill beyond, and got out to watch.

Sure enough, the baby truck wallowed down into the creek and promptly lost traction. The driver, losing his cool, was stomping on the accelerator like crazy, getting nowhere. With some yelling, we were able to get him to leave off that, and the winch was engaged. Slowly, it came across and started up the bank, only to bog down on the bank in the now slushy, icy snow.  With that, I ran back to my truck and dug out the 25 foot chain in the tool box below the bed. I made a loop around the lift bed bar, and ran it out to the bumper of the other truck. The driver popped around, and finally introduced himself as Dave. With a quick introduction, I told him I would pull his truck, dragging the stuck one along with us. Given the angles involved, I knew I would have to head to the left, and told him to expect me to slide all over everywhere, but to keep at it on a measured count. We lashed the far end to his welded on bumper hitch and had a plan. With only time for a glance and a “good doggie” to Dooms, I hopped in and waited for the signal. 

A full three minutes and a quarter acre later, we managed to get the truck unstuck and onto firm ground again. It was the worst attempt at towing I had ever been involved with, with my truck going this way and that, rear end sliding around, and tires smoking on half frozen ground to boot.  We all tumbled out of our rigs with some relief and after winding up the winch and getting my chain back into the box, we were ready to tackle the hill.  Looking up, my heart sank again.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ch. 2

Chapter 2

For a few minutes, I could not think what to do first. Dooms was keening in distress, Jethro had somehow worked himself inside the insulated work shirt I had on over a sweatshirt, and I was rattled. We had ended up with my back towards the fenced yard of the shop, facing the south. The sun was still shining and there was a light breeze, but I couldn't hear anything. With some effort, I managed to stand up on unsteady feet, and after a few deep breaths the mental pistons began firing again.  About that time, a cacophony of sound overwhelmed my ears-sirens and horns coming from every direction, including the natural disaster one, piercing through my mental fog. Prioritizing the immediate things, I got busy.

First, check the natural gas. Which side of the building was it on? I remembered it was on the outside of the yard, and skirting around the delivery truck, I looked down the shop wall, ignoring the jumbled mess behind the chain link. The metal siding was severely buckled and had come loose completely in some spots, leaving long lengths sticking outwards. Off the pavement to the left the ground looked strange, like it had been raked in some spots, but normal in others. I noticed some deep spots had opened, like dots across the adjoining lot, but didn’t pay it much attention. The pavement itself had a few cracks but looked okay, so I quickly tied Dooms off to the delivery truck and made my way down the shop wall, ducking under and around twisted metal. I knew there had been a wrench hung on the base when it was installed but hadn’t thought to check it in years….but there it was-off it’s hook but on the ground. I couldn’t hear anything, but managed to get the wrench on and turned the valve off, just the same.

Second, check the power. Back around the building to the front door-there was no way to get in through the shop door at all….but the office door had been left wide open, stuck that way due the frame being warped. The front window was cracked, but not broken completely out. The inside of the office was a mess. Even with shelf, desk and counter contents strewn around, I could see the concrete floor had heaved and buckled upwards. Carefully, I picked my way through the rubble and found the office hand held under some papers. No dial tone of course, no power I realized.

Third, can I get a phone to work? I had two cell phones, my office one and my own, neither of which I used much. The work one was found still hooked to the charger, and with relief I saw that it had power. Yanking the charger free of the receptacle, I made my way back outside to try for a signal. All circuits busy, the automatic recording said.

I stood there for a minute, wondering which vehicle to take. The SUV that holds the dogs comfortably, or the flat bed delivery truck with 4 wheel drive? It should have been a no brainer, but I am not one to take things without asking and I couldn’t exactly ask my boss. As I am looking at the truck, I had a V-8 “doh!” moment, and I hopped in, fired it up, and found an AM station after some trial and error.

“………reporting from Fairbanks, back to you, John”

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP This is the emergency broadcast system. This is not a test. Repeat. This is not a test. The Cook Inlet area has experienced an earthquake. Preliminary magnitude of 8.9 according to the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. The earthquake was centered just four miles west of Houston, Alaska and occurred at 12:42 Alaska time. At this time, a tsunami is not expected, however tidal surges could be quite high. All residents in low lying areas are urged to evacuate to higher ground immediately. Repeat: All residents in low lying areas or tidal zones are urged to evacuate to higher ground immediately. The Alaska National Guard, the Alaska State troopers and other local emergency personnel are responding. Be advised that travel may be difficult and all residents are urged to stay where they are, out of damaged structures.
Please stay tuned to this station for further instructions. This concludes this announcement on the emergency broadcast system BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP”

OK, this is John at KFQD, reporting live the events that occurred just minutes ago, at 12:42 this afternoon. According to the emergency broadcast, everyone who......”

Ah, Scott in here, just want to pass along I have a report of major damage from east Anchorage, there is still no word about Eagle River, the Parks highway is impassable, I think they are closing the airport………”

Scott, I just got word from the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer. They are predicting a moderate tsunami, to perhaps between six and 8 feet, upper Cook Inlet, set to arrive in approximately 9 minutes from now………”

I snapped off the radio and realized I had to pack up. Like now. Right now. What did I need to take home with me? Propane! First, I loaded the dogs, and drove around the back of the shop to the pallet where the spare bottles were kept for the forklift. Jumping out, I tipped each one to find the full ones, and drug them as quick as I could to the bed of the truck, four 20 pound bottles, lucky me. 

With strength I didn’t know I had any longer, I got them onto the truck, then climbed up and secured them to the head ache rack using a cargo strap. Blowing hard, I paused a moment and thought: What else?

Back around to the office, and onto the bed went the spare paper towels, TP, coffee.  With some presence of mind, I managed to remember the cash bag, the digital camera, and I snagged my two favorite photos from the debris pile-miraculously not damaged. The plant starting rack in the office had jumped halfway across the room and several flats had fallen off the top shelf. With a pang, I turned and left them, tossed the supplies into the pipe rack and it dawned on me….I should grab some pipe or something, right? Back around the shop to the rack, which was sitting askew, partially dropped into a sink hole. Okay, not the heavy wall stuff, the pvc then…..with a bit of struggle I managed to free 200 foot of pipe from the pile and get that on the rack and secured. 

I am just driving through the gates and it dawns on me: I need to bring hay home. In my hurry to pack up, I had forgotten about the horses. Backing up, I spun the one ton dually around to face the 40 foot container that held the extra hay. It too, was sitting at an angle, but not as bad as the pipe rack. Luckily, the padlock was not latched, but I couldn’t get the right door open fully, even using a pry bar. The left swung open easily enough and I hastily started dragging those bales to the front. I managed to get a half dozen loaded before common sense returned and I realized that equipment was made to make life easier. The forklift was where it had been left, and fired right up as usual. With careful jockeying, I was able to get the forklift with a pallet on it, near to the door of the container. Working as fast as a 50 something woman could, I stacked hay on the pallet and then loaded that onto the flat bed. I gave it a push with the forks to move the weight forward over the axles, hopped off the lift, turned off the fuel for it, and was back in the truck as fast as I could. I sat there for a few seconds and thought-I might need a tank too. So, back I went to load a small fuel tank, which I stood up behind the hay. It still left about four foot of flat bed, and some along the sides.

What else? What else? Chains. Into the bed of the truck. Extra cargo straps, ditto. Anything else? Phones. Chargers. Work gloves. First Aid kit. Ah, water! I grabbed the partial case from the shop refrigerator and dumped that in the front seat on the floor board. I made one futile attempt to close the gate before I left, but it was too out of plumb to manage so I left the forklift parked, fuel turned off, just inside across the entry. Someone would have to fire up the forklift to get into the yard itself-at least with a vehicle. With some choice words I managed to swing the office door partially shut, and that was that, I was ready. 

Driving with two dogs scared out their wits was impossible. Between whines, panting and scrambling around, I was taking a beating inside the cab within 100 feet of the shop. Furious, I slammed to a stop, yelled at the Sheltie to stay put, and dragged the big dog out. Looking into his panicked eyes, I knew I had to take a couple minutes to settle him down. I pulled him closer and began the slow stroking I knew calmed and reassured him and after a minute or so, I felt the tension begin to fade away and the breathing slow. After a moment of indecision, I finally decided I had to tie him to the bed of the truck-between the hay and the propane bottles. I’d never done that before and there was a pretty good chance he’d panic and hang himself jumping off, but I had to do it. With a little coaxing he was able to make the nearly four foot jump up beside me, and I tied off his lead to the pipe rack. With a few encouraging words, I positioned myself to jump down when an aftershock smacked us a good one.

Immediately, I was dropped down onto my butt, with my legs hanging off the back-I snatched onto the rack and held on as the world rocked and jumped and bounced around me. I’ll never forget the sight of my SUV bouncing around like a basketball being dribbled, or the grinding, popping, cracking and roaring sound that came with it. I watched the fence posts get jacked up and down and the chain link rippled wildly as the metal building danced and screamed. With adrenalin pumping hard, I was about into a full blown panic myself when it finally eased and stopped. Eventually I began to hear the whines of fear from the big dog as the pounding in my own ears faded away and turned to see how he had fared during that aftershock.

One of the propane bottles had slipped loose from the strap and was tipped over, but aside from that, everything looked okay. I got back to my feet, tightened down the strap with another loop through the lifting handle, patted the dog, and hopped back down to the ground. With shaking hands and rather wobbly on my feet, I made it to the drivers’ door, crawled in, and shut it firmly. The Sheltie was on the floorboards, scared to death and the sight of his terror stricken little body got me to focus a bit. I snatched him up to my chest and we just all sat there for a few minutes or seconds-while I fought back tears and huge waves of emotion that followed one after the other.

Eventually I was able to pull myself together, with the urge to get home in the fore front of my mind. I fired up the truck again and eased the Duramax into second and off we went. Thirteen and a half miles to go.