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September 30th, 1996

Memories of Fran...

Cleaning up old floppy disks, as part of a letter to a friend, I found this description of my Hurricane Fran ordeal back in September of 1996. I'm capturing it here for posterity. I still have some slight PTSD around storms due to this experience.

Rob and I suffered extensive damage to our place during the hurricane. It’s been a real bummer some days, but overall we are looking forward and thinking positive. It started Thursday night, September 5th, as the storm moved in.

We loss power at about 10:00PM and laid in the bed until about 1:00AM when a huge tree fell onto our roof. It landed on the side eave of our roof right over our bedroom and shook the entire half of the house. I said to Rob, “You know, Rob, the next one might come right through this roof and crush us to death in this bed.” At that time, we went downstairs and lay on the floor in the hallway. Three of the four sides of our downstairs are sliding glass doors. Really, virtually, all three sides are glass. We closed the door that leads into our dining room to keep any glass to come flying from that side if it broke the glass door. On the other side of the hallway (leading into the living room) there is no door, but we opened the door to the little room that holds the water heater and that blocked off the entrance to that side of the house.

At times during the night it was quite frightening. The wind would slow down for a minute and then whoosh right back up. I just knew each new gust would be the one that would take the roof off. Finally, at about 4:00AM the wind died down to a “normally windy” night. At this time we went upstairs and tried to see out the windows as we did so. It was so pitch black, and trees and limbs were everywhere. We saw our next door neighbors shining a flashlight out of their side windows, and did the same back at them. It was nice just to know they were okay. Before we got into bed, I looked out our back window, and could see space. Our back yard was total woods. You looked out and saw trees, that’s it -- woods all the way down to the (Crabtree Valley) creek that’s behind our house. I said to Rob, “I think all our trees are gone in the back.” He said, “No way,” and hopped in the bed and went back to sleep. I stuck my head outside the front door just to take a look and saw the roots of a giant tree upended right across our front lawn. That’s when the rain started.

They estimated that we got about 10 inches of rain in a couple of hours. We got up at 7:00AM and looked out that back window. Oh my God, the trees were all gone. It was horrible. All of our privacy (which is the main reason we bought this particular house) was gone! We could see a house on the other side of the creek that we didn’t even know existed. We were later to realize that there is a street over there, and at night now, the lights of the cars using that street shine on the back of our house.

We opened the door and ventured outside. What a nightmare! Our driveway was totally blocked by downed trees that were resting on the power lines. We had four huge trees in our front yard down, all across our yard, on the power lines, and then across the road! The huge one that I had seen the upended roots of the night before extended all the way across the front yard, with a huge limb on Rob’s truck, crushing the bed in half.

We went back inside and downstairs, to go out the back to check the damage back there. As we stepped off the stairs and into the very hallway we slept in, we stepped into about 3 inches of water. Evidently, after 4:00PM when we went upstairs, all that rain started, and we got flooded. We were later to find out that this was not covered by insurance. Only water damage that is caused by a tree making a hole in your roof, and the water leaking in that was is covered. We had just put our carpets down 3 months ago for $2400.

We looked out back, opening our sliding glass door going on to the deck. To the right was the huge tree that had fallen on our house. It had “Y’d” on the very corner of house, with one limb crushing the roof from the back and the other limb crushing it from the side. It was obvious from the beginning that it was going to be difficult to remove. The back of our house is just a cliff right down to the creek. So, this tree’s trunk started down the cliff, and rested on the roof in such a way that if it was just cut off the roof, it would fall down onto the house and our deck potentially causing much damage there.

As we looked out to the left of our door, our deck was totally covered with debris -- trees and limbs smashed everywhere. Then looking over the edge of our deck down towards the creek, we saw why we had all that “blank space” when we looked out the back window. We have at least 25-30 trees down in the back.

Looking out our entryway window to where our power, phone, and cable lines were, we saw three ends of wires snapped off and hanging off our house. It was obvious then that it was going to be a long time until the power, phone, and cable were restored.

It took 8 days to get our power back. After 3 days, you could hardly breathe downstairs in our house as the water sat in the carpet and pad. It was impossible to get through to places like Stanley Steemer, etc. as their phones hadn’t stopped ringing for 3 days. Most of them were booked for at least a week out. A few of them had on answering machines that said, “We are referring you to our competitors as we are totally booked up.” Finally after four days, I called the people who sold us the carpet and asked them if they had a recommendation of what we should do with our carpet. I told them it had been sitting in water for 4 days, and we have no power to suck the water up. I wanted to know if they recommended pulling the carpet up, or what. They said, “I think you ought to let us come out and suck that water up!”

I was shocked. I said, “We have no power, though.” They said, “We have a truck that runs by generator.” I said, “When can you come out, then?” I thought for sure it would be two or three days. They said, “How about tomorrow morning at 9:00?” I nearly croaked! They didn’t end up getting there until the afternoon around 2 or 3, but pulled the carpets half back and sucked the water out. They said they’d come back and put fans on them when we got our power back. Well, that night, about four hours later, it poured like I couldn’t believe, and since the ground was still so soaked from the hurricane and the cinder block wall where the water leaked in was still soaked, our place flooded again. This time we had the rug and pad pulled half back, so it spread much faster as Rob and I frantically swabbed the concrete floor -- he with a squeegee, and me with a broom. We were shoving it out the sliding glass door as fast as it was coming in. This was nearly the straw that broke the camel’s back. I said, “I’m just sick of this!” It was very discouraging. As it turned out, the rest of the carpet pretty much got wet and we ripped the entire downstairs part (wall-to-wall in the dining room, hallway, and living room) out and put it out on the deck. It’s at the dump now.

After 3 days, we emptied the refrigerator out -- everything ruined. We spent two nights in the house -- we could stay upstairs and not smell the downstairs. But it was so hot with no air conditioning. And there was no breeze at all for two nights straight! The third and fourth night we spent out at Rob’s parent’s house in Garner. They had gotten their power back pretty quickly, and Rob’s dad unexpectedly had to have some surgery, and his mom was sleeping at the hospital with him. Yes, on top of all of this, Rob’s dad found out that he had blocked carotid arteries -- a 100% blockage on one side and 99% blockage on the other! It was a miracle he hadn’t had a stroke. Needless to say, they scheduled him immediately for surgery. I’m happy to say the surgery went beautifully and he’s home recovering nicely now.

On the second or third day, a friend of ours, who works in construction, drove a fork lift over to our house to try to open the road and our driveway. He was able to do that and to lift the tree off Rob’s truck -- which, astoundingly, was drivable. It is scheduled to be fixed tomorrow, finally. It’s quite a sight, with two big bent dips into either side of the bed where the tree trunk was sitting. People point at it and laugh when we ride in it.

We got our phone back after two weeks, and our cable after three weeks. Two weekends ago we got that tree off our house. We had to hire a company with a crane to get it off. They tore up our front yard getting that huge crane in such a place that they could lift that tree off our house so it wouldn’t fall down and damage our house and deck. All of Rob’s beautiful yardwork that he has been doing the four months since we’ve moved in is pretty much scrapped.

It’s really been something, this past month. We found out a lot about insurance and what it does and doesn’t cover. Out of all the damage we’ve had, they paid to have the one tree removed off the house, the cost to repair the roof, $500 for “general debris removal” and will reimburse us for the loss in our refrigerator, but only because the lines were snapped off our house. Those people who lost everything in their refrigerator due to the power being out were not covered. The flood damage is not covered, so we are out $2400.00 for new carpeting. The five trees downed across our front yard and the power lines and the road were not covered. The 25-30 trees in our backyard will not be covered as they are not touching anything. The people next door to us (who also live along this cliff like we do) had an estimate to remove the trees from the back -- $17,000! And we probably have a few more down than they do. The latest problem is with the septic tanks. Our neighbor has found that the funnel pipes (or whatever they’re called) were broken or bent or damaged by the uprooting of trees and the ground around their tank is bubbling and smelling. We don’t think ours is damaged, but really aren’t sure exactly where it is. The previous owners told us the general area, and soon as we can access the area (it’s covered with downed trees at the moment) we will check it out.

We did submit a claim to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for damages not covered by our insurance. They did give us a check for $1200 to put towards the carpet since the “flooding” wasn’t covered. One day during the few days after the storm, a Forest Ranger was driving through and mentioned that the city or state may do some of the cleanup in the back as we are less than a mile from Umstead Park (a local park/forest) and it’s a fire hazard to have the downed, drying out trees just lying around so close to the forest. So we will see. If they don’t clean it up, it’s going to be a long term project for us. My inclination is to cut them up and let the pieces roll down the cliff. I don’t know what the implications are of letting the debris roll down to the city-owned easement and Crabtree Creek. What I do know is that we don’t have $17,000 to pay someone to do it!

Well, I think that is enough of that!

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