Part 7: Lightning Strikes, Journey Jolted!

Joan with her Power Outage Survival KitHello, Joan’s Journey readers! I’m back after several weeks of diversion from my senior housing search. A natural disaster struck my life, one I never expected to personally experience — lightning. In fact, natural disasters like lightning are an impetus of my seeking senior housing, with its professional staff and disaster plans in case of personal, man-made or natural disaster.

In my first Joan’s Journey installment, I discussed four natural disasters that occurred while I was home with my ever-present buddy, kitty Mia. Within one week, Baltimore and the Mid-Atlantic Coast experienced a significant earthquake, a damaging hailstorm, followed by a hurricane, then a flood. To stay safe, I was forced to remain at home. The good news is that at no time did I feel personally threatened or in harm’s way. Still, the events spooked me enough to decide to move to a more secure environment, such as senior housing.

With the recent lightning bolt, or I should say jolt, I did feel personally in harm’s way.

The Calm Before the Storm

This past June, the East Coast was under an extreme heat wave, with meteorologists urging people to stay cool and hydrated. I heard their words, but really did not pay attention to their warnings.

On the quiet evening of Friday, June 29, I rented a movie, turned out the bedroom lights and settled down in my bed with Mia snuggled next to me. At 11:03 pm, a sudden unexpected clap of thunder trumpeted in my quiet bedroom. Wind began to blow. Within a mili-second, a lightning and thunder show danced before my eyes. I have never heard thunder so loud or lightning that felt like it was in front of me. At a particularly loud clap of thunder, Mia glanced at me and dove under the bed. Pounding rain began and the tree branches restlessly swayed outside my window.

Then … Crackle!

The cable box lost transmission. The television and clock went dark. I then heard a frightening crash seemingly outside my bedroom window. Off went my nightlight and the corner streetlight. The room was eerily silent and jet black in darkness. I reached for my bedside phone. Dead. My cell phone was charging in the nearby bathroom, a short distance away but not a walk to attempt in blind darkness.

Finally my eyes became accustomed to the dense blackness. I ventured out of bed for a flashlight kept in my nearby dresser drawer and my cell phone that was thankfully charged. I carefully crept to the bedroom windows where I saw only darkness. Mia, terrified, was hiding under the bed. I had no intention of leaving her and no ability to crawl under the bed to reach her. I decided to return to bed and hope this real nightmare would be over in the morning.

Assessing the Damage

Saturday morning I awoke to glaring sunshine, heat and no power. I enjoyed having a cold shower, but missed my cup of hot coffee. With no power, I was uninformed of the aftermath of the storm and extreme weather conditions. In the lobby, Doorman Bob informed me of last night’s storm damage. Not only had residents of our complex lost Crews fixing downed powerlines outside Joan's condopower, six million folks from Northern Virginia to Southern Delaware were without power in the midst of this extreme heat wave.

In addition, a bolt of lightning hit a giant oak tree at the corner of my street, quite close to my bedroom window. The tree fell across the street and no cars could pass. Power cables were intertwined with tree branches and the situation was highly dangerous. “Best you stay in, Ms. London,” Bob said. I thanked him and re-entered my condo.

With no telephone land-line, radio or working television, I decided to sparingly use my cell phone battery. Grocery and other stores were closed, as were gas stations. Hotels were full. The darkness of night was coming.

I gathered my large-beam flashlight, battery flashlight-lantern, two traditional flashlights and one purse flashlight. The doorman showed me how to download a fabulous, free flashlight app for my smartphone. “That should do it,” I thought.

A World Without Power

Days one and two passed uncomfortably but uneventfully. My iPad was charged, so I caught up on the news, emails and work. By day three, the beautiful, proud oak tree was removed from my street by hardworking crews. Electric companies identified on gigantic truck bodies, cranes and equipment I don’t know the names of, happily appeared on my street.

Interestingly, many crews were from New Orleans—quite a driving distance for their monster repair equipment to travel to Baltimore. Curious, I walked to the street corner and talked to a few crew members. They said Baltimore crews arrived rapidly in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. It was payback time—neighbor helping neighbor. Nice!

By the end of day three, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable from the heat. I was sleep deprived and exhausted from the seemingly airless condo. I was constantly thirsty and weirdly crazing potato chips and pickles. By day four, I was too exhausted to want to go anywhere, whether to family, a friend’s home or hotel. The thought of packing to leave overnight was overwhelming. Moreover, I didn’t want to leave Mia.

Returning to Normal

Each remaining day of the six-day outage, I mustered strength and visited air-conditioned malls, coffee houses, restaurants, movies, friends’ homes, with multiple “charging” visits to the Verizon store for my cellphone. For me, the experience that I call “The Six Days from Hell Outage” finally ended on July 5, when my power thankfully returned. Its taken weeks to get my physical strength back from effects of the heat and refocus on moving to senior housing. I will forevermore heed meteorologists when they warn of heat exhaustion and recommend staying cool and hydrated.

What have I learned from this experience? Stay turned for my next installment, when I will describe lessons learned from my too-close-for-comfort lightning encounter.

Have you or someone you know experienced a natural disaster? Were you in senior housing or another living arrangement? How did you manage? Please share your experiences at the SeniorHomes.com blog or email your questions to joan@seniorhomes.com.

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Joan London, a freelance writer specializing in senior issues, anticipates a move from her condo in Baltimore to senior housing in California. Having recently experienced a bolt of lightning too close for comfort, London is now an advocate for natural disaster preparedness, no matter one’s age or where one lives.

Read part eight of Joan’s Journey: Miracles Do Happen!