Chapter 1: a storm is coming

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By Eric Douglas

Presented by the American Press Institute

Copyright © 2013

Chapter 1: A storm is coming

“Hey Jayne! Mom said Erin is coming and we have to get ready for her,” Marie called to her older sister outside. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze blowing.

“Who is Erin? I don’t know anyone named Erin,” Jayne replied as she walked toward the house. Jayne was the older of the two sisters, by a year, with shoulder-length brown hair and green eyes.

“I don’t know. She just asked me to get you so we can all talk about what we need to do to get ready for Erin,” Marie said.” Marie stood half a foot taller than her older sister, with short brown hair and deep blue eyes. “She said Dad is coming home from work to talk about it, too.”

The girls’ parents, Nathan and Ann, worked for the Ocean Research Center attached to the North Carolina Aquarium. Nathan worked as the director for the center while Ann was a veterinarian and cared for the marine animals. Their home and their parents’ place of work were located on Roanoke Island in the town of Manteo on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Jayne and Marie found their mother in the kitchen, staring at the shelves when they entered. They could both tell she was thinking about something.

“Mom, who is Erin and when is she getting here?” Jayne asked.

“Have we met her?” Marie asked. “I don’t remember anyone named Erin.”

“What? Oh, probably tomorrow night. Erin is coming across the Caribbean right now and then they expect she will turn east. Looks like Erin will hit here in about 36 hours or so,” Ann answered without turning to look at the girls.

“Is she in a boat or something? Or a really slow airplane?” Jayne asked. “It sounds like you don’t know exactly when she will get here.”

“Not exactly, sweetie. It’s never an exact science,” Ann answered.

“Science? Mom, what are you talking about?” Marie asked. Before either girl could figure out what was going on, their father walked in.

“Hi guys, I’m glad you’re all here,” Nathan said. “Girls, I want you to get some things together and be ready to take off. Pack three or four changes of clothes and a couple of your favorite things. We might have to go to a shelter for safety. Bring along anything you can’t replace.”

“Dad, what are you talking about?” Jayne said, growing more confused by the moment. “Erin is coming to visit. I thought we were getting ready for her. And now you’re telling me to get ready to run away?”

“Is Erin a bad person?” Marie asked. “Are we going to hide from her?”

“What? What are you girls talking about?” Ann asked, finally turning to face her family.

“Girls, do you know what Erin is?” Nathan asked.

“What do you mean, ‘what Erin is’? Isn’t she a girl? Don’t you mean who?” Marie asked.

“Girls, come in here and sit down. I’m sorry, but your mom and I thought you knew what was going on. We probably assumed too much,” Nathan said, moving toward the family room. When everyone was seated, he continued.

“Girls, I’m really sorry I haven’t been clear with both of you,” Ann said. “I’ve been thinking about what we needed to do and I didn’t take the time to explain it to you. Erin isn’t a person coming to visit. Erin is the name for a hurricane coming this way. It will probably hit the island we live on sometime tomorrow evening. So we have to get ready for it.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Nathan said. “You girls haven’t been through a hurricane yet. I didn’t think about you not knowing what’s going on.” The family had moved to the Outer Banks of North Carolina less than a year before so Ann and Nathan could take their new jobs, and the four had yet to face a storm.

The Outer Banks are barrier islands. They are natural sand bars that slow down storms approaching the coast. In spite of being one of the larger communities on the chain of islands, Manteo is still a small town. And living on barrier islands puts residents in the direct path of approaching storms from the Atlantic Ocean.

“What exactly is a hurricane?” Marie asked.

“It’s a big storm – right, Dad?” Jayne answered.

“Yes. A hurricane is a very big storm,” Nathan agreed.

“We’ve been through big storms before,” Jayne said. “I remember that one time, it rained for three days. There was thunder and lightning the whole time. We didn’t have to go anywhere for that one.”

“Honey, that was a big storm, but a hurricane is much bigger than that,” Ann said. “Hurricanes have really fast wind with lots of rain and they cause flooding, too. They can do lots and lots of damage. Really big storms can push houses down.”

“They tear down power lines, too,” Nathan said. “Out here on the islands, they push sand dunes over the roads and even tear them up. That’s why we have to get ready.”

Marie started to cry. “Mom, I was excited we were going to get a visitor. Now I’m scared. Are we going to be okay?”

“Yes, honey, that’s why we have to get ready before Erin gets here,” Ann said as she moved closer to her daughter and hugged her. “But we’re going to be fine.”

“Mom? Is Erin going to destroy our house and tear down the aquarium, too?” Marie asked. “What will happen to the animals?”

“I don’t think anything bad will happen, honey, but there is no way of knowing. We will just have to wait until the storm gets here and we see what happens,” Ann said.

Chapter 2: Why is it called Erin?

The Outer Banks are low islands, not much higher than the ocean itself. To keep the water out when big storms hit, people often build their houses on stilts.

The girls’ new home wasn’t a huge vacation house designed to sleep 20 tourists who came to the islands for the summer. It was small but comfortable. Wood shingles protected the house from the wind and the water. Decks wrapped all the way around the house on all three floors. On top of the roof was another small deck, called a widow’s walk. From there, the girls could see all over the island. Roanoke Island is surrounded by calm water that looks like a big lake, called a “sound.” The sound is connected to the ocean by gaps between the islands known as inlets.

Jayne and Marie were in their third-floor bedrooms packing some clothes when they heard the doorbell ring. A few minutes later, they heard footsteps on the stairs leading to their rooms, so they stopped what they were doing and looked out of their doors.

“Hey guys! What are you doing here?” Jayne asked when she realized their two best friends had arrived together. Javier was younger, in the fifth grade with Marie, while Monique was in the sixth grade with Jayne. The girls had met Javier and Monique just a few days after moving to the Outer Banks. Since then, the foursome had been inseparable.

The Outer Banks are a summertime vacation spot with lots of families visiting while school is out. The number of people living there all year around is pretty small. The kids who live there tend to know each other, and they attend the same small school.

“I came over to see how you two are doing. This is your first big storm, right?” Monique asked. She was taller than Jayne and Javier, and had deep brown skin and dark brown eyes. “I’ve been through this a couple of times. I thought I would help you out.”

“It’s my first hurricane, too,” Javier said. He had moved to the island with his mom just a few weeks before the girls arrived. Javier was born in Honduras, but came to the United States with his mother, a veterinarian assistant who worked with the girls’ mother, Ann. He was taller than Jayne but shorter than Marie, with short, dark hair and light brown eyes.

“You look like you’re packing up. You guys going to leave?” Monique asked.

“Dad said probably,” Marie answered. “He wasn’t completely sure, but he wanted us to be ready, just in case.”

“That makes sense. I do the same thing, but we almost never leave, unless it’s a Category 3 or something like that,” Monique said. “Your house has been here several years, so it’s been through a few storms. It will be safe, I’m sure.”

“I came over to say goodbye,” Javier said. “We’re going to evacuate in the morning.” Javier said. “What did you mean about a Category 3? Do these things come in sizes?”

“There are all kinds of different storms,” Monique said. “The smallest ones are tropical depressions. Then there are tropical storms. When they become hurricanes, they can be Category 1 through Category 5.”

“And each one gets stronger, right?” Jayne asked. “I was just looking at some stuff online about them.”

Jayne showed her friends a website on the tablet she used for homework. It had a chart showing the types of storms and how they are rated. One of the most important things they saw was how fast the winds come with each storm.

“It’s always windy. We can fly kites all year long,” Marie asked, gesturing around her. “How is this different?”

“I think the winds around here are 10 to 15 miles an hour,” Jayne said. “This chart says hurricane winds are between 74 and 95 miles an hour. That’s faster than the speed limit on the interstate!”

“And that’s just a Category 1 hurricane,” Monique agreed. “They can get up to 150 miles an hour in a Category 5 storm.”

“How big is Erin?” Javier asked, his eyes growing wide.

“The weather people say it will be a Category 1 storm when it gets here,” Monique said. “That’s a strong storm, but we’ve been through those before. Of course, it could always change. Sometimes they get bigger or smaller just before they hit land. You never really know until it gets here.”

“So we don’t know how bad Erin is going to be?” Javier said.

“I think the weather people are pretty good at knowing what is going on,” Monique said, trying to reassure her friend. She could tell he was getting nervous.

“What I don’t get is why everyone is calling the storm Erin. Where did that come from?” Marie asked, changing the subject.

“I wondered that, too,” Jayne said, reading from her tablet. “The website says there are six lists of names. They change the list every year. When there’s a big storm, they don’t use that name any more and replace it on the list. Remember Hurricane Katrina a few years ago, and then Hurricane Sandy? Those names were retired.”

“Makes sense that they are all girls’ names,” Javier said with a grin. Marie playfully hit him on the arm for that one.

“They aren’t all girls’ names. There are boys’ names on the list, too,” Jayne said as she continued reading.

“I’m just glad it’s not named Marie,” Marie said. “Who would want a storm named after them?”

Chapter 3: Leaving Dad behind

“So what’s it like?” Marie asked.

“What’s what like? Riding out a hurricane?” Monique asked.

Marie simply nodded. She wanted to be brave, but she was still nervous.

“It’s kind of scary, especially the first time,” Monique said. “The winds are pretty loud and they’ll make your house sway back and forth. It sounds like a jet airplane is just outside.” She explained that they would have to protect the windows and doors by covering them with boards. The high winds pick up anything loose on the ground, and it can be pretty dangerous when stuff goes flying.

“How long does your house sway? It is like an earthquake? Those are usually over in a minute or two,” Javier asked. He and his mother lived in California for a few years after leaving Honduras, and they had been through a few earthquakes.

“It depends on how fast the storm is moving,” Monique explained. “If it’s a slow-moving storm, it can go on all day. If it’s a fast-moving storm, the worst of it can be over in a few hours.”

“What do you mean by ‘a fast-moving storm’? The news said Erin’s winds are 75 miles an hour,” Marie asked.

“Hurricanes are big circles,” Monique said, moving her hand in a counter-clockwise direction. “They aren’t like storms that move straight across the country. The winds are moving at 75 miles an hour or more, but the eye of the storm only moves 10 to 20 miles an hour.”

“This storm has an eye?” Javier asked.

“That’s what they call it, but the eye of the storm is just the middle of the storm,” Monique said. “It’s actually pretty calm in the eye. If it crosses right over you, it might fool you into thinking the storm is over. It isn’t. The second part of the storm is coming up behind you. And the winds will be moving the other direction this time.”

“What do you do during the storm?” Jayne asked. “Do you just watch television and stay inside?”

“Probably not,” Monique said. “Most of the time, the power goes out in the middle of the storm. Power lines get blown down a lot of the time.”

“Why would you stay here in the middle of a big storm like that? It sounds pretty scary to me,” Marie said.

“We stay around to take care of our house. We want to make sure everything is okay,” Monique said. “Because we’re on an island, sometimes you can’t get back out here for a few days. Mom, Dad and I want to be close to our house and Dad’s store, so we can take care of things.”

“What about food? If the power is out, how do you eat?” Jayne asked.

“We have a hurricane survival kit,” Monique explained. “We keep batteries and propane for the grill. We have lots of extra water and food that doesn’t have to be refrigerated to keep it fresh. We also have a small generator that makes electricity. It won’t run the whole house, but it can run the lights and things like that.”

“Sounds like you and your family are really prepared for the storm,” Ann said. The girls’ mother had come up the stairs, but the four friends were so interested in their conversation that none of them had heard her.

“We try to be, Mrs. Andrews,” Monique said. “But like my dad says, you never know what’s going to happen.”

“I’m sure he’s right about that,” Ann said. “Thanks for coming over to talk to the girls. But now, it’s time for you and Javier to go home and get ready. The wind is already picking up outside and the ocean is getting rougher. Girls, we’re going to leave to head inland shortly. I was able to get us a hotel room to ride out the storm.”

“Okay, Mom. But we can’t leave yet. We have to wait for dad. He isn’t home yet,” Jayne said.

“Girls, your dad isn’t coming with us. He’s going to stay at the aquarium to keep an eye on the place and to keep an eye on the animals,” Ann explained. “I thought you realized that.”

“What?” both girls asked together.

“If Dad isn’t going with us, why are we leaving?” Jayne asked.

“I hadn’t thought about the animals in the aquarium. What are they going to do?” Marie asked. “Monique said the power will probably go out. The water pumps in the exhibits run on electricity. What will happen to them?”

“We talked about it and thought you two would be scared to stay on the island during the storm, so we agreed that I would take you and go somewhere safe,” Ann said.

“I want us to stay together!” Jayne said.

“Me too! I want to stay here and help Dad take care of the aquarium,” Marie agreed, trying to put on a brave face. “I don’t want to leave Daddy behind. Who will take care of him?”

Chapter 4: Batten down the hatches

When Nathan got home from the aquarium, he wasn’t happy his family had decided to stay on the island through the storm. However, he was proud of their dedication to the animals in the aquarium and a little relieved that they would all be close together. The next morning, everyone got up early and Jayne and Marie got ready without complaint.

“So what’s the plan, Dad?” Marie asked when she entered the kitchen with her sister.

“Morning, girls. Glad to see you are ready to go,” Nathan said, turning his attention away from the weather report on the television. “We’ve got a lot to do today. I’ll need your help putting plywood over the doors and windows and getting all of our deck furniture in the house. Anything that’s small enough to blow away needs to go in the house. That includes toys and bikes.”

“Sure, D ad. We’ll get right to work on that. I don’t know that there’s much outside, though,” Jayne said.

“You’ll be surprised when you start looking around,” Ann said. “You’re right that we don’t have clutter in the yard, but when you have to carry everything inside, it takes awhile.”

“And then we’ll go over to the aquarium and do it all again?” Marie asked. The girls’ home was next door to the Ocean Research Center and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

“The maintenance people have taken care of most of that work already,” Nathan said. “They’ll get everything put away and locked up. We won’t have to do that. Everything on the Outer Banks is built with storms in mind. When we’re done here, we’ll take our sleeping bags over to the aquarium and keep an eye on the place during the storm.”

“How is the storm looking, Dad? Where is Erin now? Is she still coming this way?” Jayne asked, pointing at the television. The weather forecasters were tracking Hurricane Erin nonstop.

“She looks like she’s turning a little bit north. That’s a good thing,” Nathan said.

“So Erin won’t come here at all now?” Marie asked hopefully. While she wanted to stay and protect the animals in the aquarium, she was nervous about the hurricane. News stories the night before showed pictures of entire towns being flooded by storms.

“You’ve got to remember that hurricanes are really big storms,” Ann said. “This one is more than 300 miles wide. That’s the distance from here to Charlotte all the way on the other end of the state. It would take us five hours to drive there. The storm was going to hit us straight on, but if it keeps turning north, we’ll probably just get hit by the side of it. But we’ll still get a lot of storm and wind.”

When the girls were finished with their breakfast, they went outside and began picking up everything from the yard and the wrap-around decks on their house. Every potted plant, decoration and toy had to come inside. They knew Erin’s strong winds could launch them through the air like missiles. They didn’t want to miss something and have it hurt someone else’s house, or worse, hit and hurt a person. They knew their neighbors were doing the same thing.

From the decks of their elevated house, the girls could see the main road leaving the island was clogged with traffic.

“Is everyone leaving the island?” Jayne asked while she handed her mother the long screws that would hold the plywood covers over the windows.

“Those are mostly tourists,” Ann said while using a cordless drill to secure the plywood. “They’ve asked people who don’t live here to evacuate. We’re just lucky it’s not the peak of the tourist season, or there would be a big traffic jam.”

“I hope everyone gets out in time,” Jayne said. “I would hate to be in a car when the storm gets here.”

“I’m sure they will, but you’re right about that, Jayne. When the storm gets here, we all need to be inside where it’s safe,” Nathan agreed as he finished with his own drill. “That’s the last of the boards. Have you guys gotten everything inside?”

“Everything is inside or locked up in the storage building,” Marie said.

“Good job, girls. Thank you for all of your help,” Ann said as she looked around the bare deck and yard.

“It just seems strange that there’s a big storm headed our way. It doesn’t seem that bad out here yet,” Jayne said, standing beside her father. “It’s windy and the waves on the beach are pretty big, but that’s it.”

“That’s the funny thing about storms like this, honey. Before and after the storm everything looks pretty normal. Before we had all of the weather radar and things to see these storms coming, people didn’t have much warning. They didn’t get a chance to prepare their homes and take shelter or evacuate. A lot more people got hurt,” Nathan said, putting his arm around his daughter. “Now we have a lot of warning and it makes things a lot safer.”

“But the warnings just let us get ready, right?” Jayne asked. “No one knows what will happen in the storm.”

“That’s right, honey. We really don’t know what will happen tonight when Erin gets here. We just have to wait it out,” Nathan said.

Marie and Ann moved closer to the other two and the family stood together on the deck outside the house. They stared to the southeast, trying to see Erin. They couldn’t quite see the storm yet, but they knew it was there and it was headed right for them. They each wondered what would happen that night.

Chapter 5: Riding the storm out

The wind and rain were picking up when Jayne and Marie left their home to go to the aquarium with their mom. Their home was next door and just down a short street from the main road that ran down the middle of the island. Their dad was already at the aquarium making sure everything ready.

The storm front was still two hours away, but conditions were getting bad. The girls could see white caps and foam on the beach just beyond the sand dunes as the wind whipped the waves into a fury.

Ann drove the girls to the aquarium and dropped them off just outside the front door before she parked the family car in the middle of the parking lot. She ran by herself to the door. Even though it was a short walk from their house to the aquarium, they all agreed the parking lot would be a safer place for the car in case the storm pushed floodwater onto the island. They didn’t want a tree to fall on the car or have something fall from the house and damage it.

Ann didn’t bother with an umbrella because the wind was too strong. As she ran for the aquarium, a gust of wind lifted her off her feet for a second. Jayne opened the door for her mother when Ann got close.

“Wow, it’s really coming down out there!” Ann said as she came inside. Jayne pulled the door shut so the wind wouldn’t catch it and break the door from its hinges.

“The wind was really blowing you around out there,” Jayne said.

“I thought for a few minutes it was going to blow me away like Dorothy,” Ann said with a smile as she took off her raincoat. “I was worried I was going to end up in Oz.”

“Wasn’t that a tornado?” Jayne asked with a smile. “In ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ I mean.”

“Yes, it was,” Ann said with a laugh. “I still felt like I was going to go flying. Now we’re all safe. Where are your sister and your dad?”

“They’re setting up the sleeping bags and our supplies in front of the main exhibit. Marie said she liked it when we spent the night there with the Scout troop and wanted to sleep in there again. Dad said it was probably the biggest room and also the safest with all of the concrete around it. There are no windows to the outside, so he thought that would be a good place for us to stay,” Jayne explained as she and her mother walked past the smaller exhibits in the aquarium.

The aquarium had more than 40 exhibits with different types of life: alligators and river otters; small fish from along the beach; and bigger creatures from farther offshore around the shipwrecks, such as sharks. The small exhibits were not much bigger than a household aquarium. The main exhibit, with its see-through wall, was more than 20 feet high. The viewing room in front of the main exhibit had benches for people to sit on while watching the fish swim.

The big exhibit hall was the girls’ favorite place in the aquarium. It included a replica of a shipwreck to make it look like the open ocean. Fish swam everywhere. Some stayed near the sandy bottom or hovered around the fake wreck. Others swam in the middle of the exhibit. A few more swam near the top of the water or dived from the top to the bottom in a dizzying pattern of silver flashes.

“Hi guys, glad you got here!” Nathan said as his daughter and wife walked into the large room. Most of the time lights in the observation room stayed low so visitors could see into the exhibit. Because no one was visiting the aquarium in the storm, the normal room lights were on. It made things look different.

“Dad, I never thought about it before, but is there any danger from the storm with us in front of the exhibit?” Jayne asked while she stood looking at the see-through wall in front of her. “I’m not worried about the sharks, but what if the wall breaks? That’s a lot of water back there.”

There were more than 400,000 gallons of water behind the acrylic wall. If it broke, the entire aquarium would flood, taking them with it.

“That wall is a lot stronger than it has to be, Sweetheart. I’m not worried about it breaking in this storm. It would take an explosion in here to break it,” Nathan said, patting his daughter on the shoulders. “I’m more worried about the power going out. If that happens, the pumps that circulate the water will stop. The water won’t get cleaned and the fish will use up all of the oxygen. They can’t live very long like that.”

As Nathan finished his sentence, the wind outside started blowing harder and the power flickered for a moment.

“Sounds like Erin is here, girls,” Ann said.

“What do we do now?” Jayne and Marie asked together. They did that a lot. Normally they laughed when they said the same things together, but not this time. This time, they were a little worried.

“Not much we can do at this point, girls. We’ll be safe in here,” Ann said. “We just have to wait.”

The storm outside started to rage as Hurricane Erin made landfall on top of the Outer Banks.

Chapter 6: Hang on tight

The wind howled outside the aquarium as Hurricane Erin came onshore. The rain beat down on the building, sounding like a thousand drums beating their own rhythm. Jayne and Marie sat huddled in their sleeping bags on the floor. They both knew there was no way they could sleep, but they felt better wrapped up tightly.

“Are we going to live through this?” Marie whispered to her sister after hearing a loud banging sound on the roof. The girls’ father left the family to make sure everything was all right.

“Of course we will. If we don’t, you can tell me I was wrong,” Jayne said.

“Ha ha.”

“I’m sure it will be fine. Dad said the aquarium was built to stand up to stronger storms than this one. There are scientists who study how to make buildings safe from storms. This is probably one of the stronger buildings on the island,” Jayne said, realizing her younger sister was scared. They were only a year apart, but Jayne liked to be the older sister.

Just then, Jayne and Marie heard another loud boom. This noise sounded like it came from out in the parking lot instead of on the building itself. The entire aquarium went dark. They were sitting in blackness.

“What do we do?” Jayne asked. “I can’t see a thing!”

“Hold on,” Ann said. The girls heard her moving around and then a flashlight came on. “It was probably an electrical transformer outside. If a power pole fell down or a tree fell on the power lines, the transformers can blow. When they do, they make a lot of noise and there is usually a bright flash of light.”

In a blink, a few small lights came on, giving off an eerie glow.

“What’s that? Is the power back on?” Marie asked.

“No, those are just emergency lights. They run off of batteries and come on when the main power goes out,” Ann said. “Girls, stay here. I’m going to go check on your father and make sure everything is all right.”

“You’re leaving?” the girls said together.

“You’ll be fine. Just stay right here,” Ann said, taking her flashlight and heading for the doors that led behind the aquarium exhibit.

“Now what do we do?” Jayne asked her sister after they sat still for a moment listening to the sound of the storm.

“There isn’t much we can do. We’re pretty safe in here, but I’m worried about our house,” Marie said. “Will our stuff be okay? Remember that story we saw on the television about houses being knocked down and torn up by that big storm last year?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re right. That’s why Mom and Dad brought all of our pictures with us,” Jayne agreed. “They said everything else could be replaced, but not pictures and memories.”

“And what about Monique? She was staying in her house to ride out the storm with her parents. Is she going to be all right?” Marie asked, her voice growing tense.

“I wish she would have come to here to stay with us,” Jayne agreed. “But there isn’t much we can do about it now.”

“I don’t like being inside and not being able to see what’s going on,” Marie said. “Let’s go look out the windows.”

“I don’t think that’s safe. What if something hits the glass?” Jayne asked.

“There are those double doors by the front entrance. We can just go to the inside doors, not to the outside ones,” Marie said. “I want to see what is going on. I’m getting nervous not knowing what is happening.”

Jayne gave in to her younger sister, mostly because she was curious, too, and didn’t like sitting still and doing nothing. They both grabbed extra flashlights and headed for the front entrance.

When they got near the doors, they realized they couldn’t see much. Out of habit, Jayne pushed against the first door and realized it was locked in place. Their father had locked both sets of doors to keep them from blowing in the wind.

“Listen to the wind, Jayne,” Marie said. “It sounds like there is an animal out there.”

The rain beat against the doors in waves. The girls’ eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness and they thought they could make out shapes outside. Suddenly, there was a flash of bright blue light from outside. A second later, they heard the sound of an explosion.

“What was that?” Marie screamed.

“I don’t know,” Jayne answered, only slightly less frightened than her sister. “We need to get out of here.”

“Yes, I agree,” a voice said over the noise and then both girls felt a hand on their shoulders.

Both girls jumped and screamed at the voice behind them.

“Hold on. Slow down, it’s only me,” their father said, calming them down. “What are you two doing out here?”

“We wanted to see what was going on,” Jayne said as soon as she caught her breath. “What was that big blue flash of light?”

“It was probably a transformer. That’s what they look like when they blow up,” Nathan said.

“We saw the flash of light before we heard the noise,” Marie said.

“That means it was a little farther away. Light travels faster than sound, so you saw it before you heard it,” Nathan said. “But now, let’s get back to the main exhibit hall. It’s not safe out here with the windows.”

Chapter 7: Aftermath

“Girls, you need to wake up. It’s early in the morning, but the storm is gone,” Nathan said quietly as he gently shook the girls from their sleep.

“What? What happened?” Marie asked as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“You two fell asleep last night as the storm started to pass and things quieted down. It was late, though. You haven’t been asleep that long,” Nathan explained.

“Then why are you waking us up?” Jayne asked, her head still buried in the sleeping bag. She was always slower to wake up.

“I thought you would like come outside and see what happened last night,” Nathan said.

“Is it still raining?”

“That’s what’s always amazing about a hurricane. Once it passes, it usually takes all the rain and storms with it,” Ann said. “It’s a bright and clear morning outside. Come out and take a look.”

Jayne and Marie hurriedly put on their clothes. Jayne brushed out her long brown hair with a few strokes and Marie put a hat on her shorter, darker hair.

“Wait a second. The lights are back on. Is the power on?” Jayne said as they were heading for the door.

“No, not yet. We have generators that run part of the aquarium. They run some of the lights, part of the air conditioning and the pumps for the exhibits,” Nathan explained. “That was one of the reasons I had to stay here. Someone had to stay at the aquarium and turn them on. I didn’t want to get stuck hours away from here and not be able to get back.”

“So power is still out everywhere?” Marie asked.

“The radio said the power company is already at work getting the electricity back on, but it will be awhile. The storm knocked down power poles and broke lines,” Nathan said as they walked through the front entrance to the aquarium. “It may be a couple days before the whole island is back up and running.”

“Wow, it’s a really pretty morning out here,” Jayne said, looking at the sky. The sun was still low in the sky, making everything a faint orange with the sunrise. “It feels like the storm scrubbed the air clean.”

“That’s a great way to describe it, Jayne,” Nathan said smiling at his daughter. “Even though it looks nice out here, we have a lot of work to do. There are trees down all over the place and the storm blew sand from the dunes and the beaches up on the roads. Some people can’t get around.”

“Is our house all right?” Marie said looking next door. Their house was still standing.

“Everything is fine over there. We’ll just have to clean up some limbs from the yard and on the decks, but I didn’t see any damage. I went inside and everything stayed dry. We’ll have to take the boards off the doors and windows to get the house back to normal, but that is about it. We can stay here in the aquarium to stay cool in the air conditioning until the power comes back on,” Nathan explained.

“Too bad everyone can’t come here and cool off,” Marie said.

“Honey, that’s a great idea. I’ll call the radio station,” Nathan said as he headed back into the aquarium.

“What did he mean, Mom?” Marie asked Ann, who stood there smiling as she watched the girls’ father walk away.

“Sometimes your father is like that, girls. He gets an idea in his head and has to take care of it immediately. But that was a great idea, Marie,” Ann said. “I think your dad is going to offer the aquarium as a shelter for people who want to come here and cool off, or get something cool to drink.”

“Oh, that IS a great idea! Way to go Marie,” Jayne said, turning to her sister.

“Thanks, I guess. I don’t know that I thought of it, though,” Marie said, blushing a bit.

“Of course you did, sweetie,” Ann said. “Now, why don’t you girls come and help me pick up the branches in the parking lot. If someone wants to come here, they’ll need to be able to get close. And then we’ll find some water bottles from the concession stand and make sure they are cool for people to drink. It’s the least we can do.”

For the next hour, the girls helped their mother pick up branches that had blown off of the tall pine trees that lined the parking lot beside the aquarium and research center. Just as they were finishing up, a car pulled into the parking lot. The girls went running toward it when they realized it was Monique and her father.

“I’m so glad you’re here! I was so worried about you,” the girls squealed together as they hugged their friend.

“I’m happy to see you, too!” Monique said. “How is everything here?”

“We’re fine. The generators are powering the pumps and the air conditioning. We’re opening up as a shelter for people to come and cool off,” Marie said. “It was my idea!”

“That’s why we came over. We wanted to see how we could help out,” Monique said. “Our power is out, but our house is fine, too. That’s what we always do after a storm. We help our neighbors and make sure everyone is all right.”

Chapter 8: Getting ready for the next one

It took a couple of days for the island to get back to normal. One of the fishing piers was damaged in the storm and some houses lost shingles from their roofs. A few signs were blown down, but overall, Hurricane Erin didn’t do that much damage. The people of the Outer Banks were used to cleaning up after storms and Erin wasn’t been the strongest one they had seen.

Javier and his mom came back to the island the day after the storm passed. They rode out the storm visiting family. All three girls spent the next day telling him about what they saw and heard through the storm.

“It wasn’t scary at all,” Marie said, forgetting what it was really like to sit tight during the storm and trying to be braver than she had felt. “You know. It was just a hurricane. No big deal.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Monique said with a laugh. “I always get a little scared during a storm, but our houses have been through these storms before and they’re made to take a lot of wind and rain.”

“I was worried about you guys. We watched the storm on TV all day as it came up the coast. I got really nervous when it hit the island right over top of the islands,” Javier said as he looked down at his shoes. “I felt pretty helpless.”

“That’s really nice of you, Javier. We worried about you, too, but mostly we were just listening to the storm, especially after the power went out,” Jayne said. “There wasn’t much to do. We were helpless, too.”

“You should have been with me,” Monique said. “I could feel my house swaying back and forth. You always wonder if the stilts are going to break and your house is going to topple over, or if the storm is going to push so much water up over the beach and the sand dunes that everything will flood.”

“That sounds really scary,” Javier said.

“It can be, but you just sort of ride it out,” Monique agreed.

“Is everything all right at the aquarium? None of the fish died, did they?” Javier asked.

“Everything is fine. Dad turned on the generators as soon as the storm passed. I doubt the fish or the sharks even knew anything happened,” Marie said. “Mom said we’ll keep an eye on them the next couple days, but she was pretty sure everything would be fine.”

“Well, I’m glad that’s over,” Javier said. “I don’t want to go through that again anytime soon.”

“Dad said that storm is over, but hurricane season lasts a long time and we have to stay prepared,” Marie said.

“Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, but the peak is in August and September,” Jayne said. “I looked it up this morning. So, we have several more months when we could get another storm.”

“As soon as everything gets back to normal, we have to restock our hurricane survival kit,” Monique agreed. “You don’t want to put it aside and forget about it.”

“What do you keep in it? I don’t think we had a kit,” Marie said.

“We keep water, fresh batteries and food we can eat when there isn’t any electricity. We keep it in a box that’s watertight, too,” Monique explained. “You don’t want it to get ruined if the island floods.”

“I’m going to talk to Mom and Dad about that. We need to make sure we have a kit, too,” Jayne said.

“We’ll get back to normal pretty quickly from Hurricane Erin. If it had been a bigger storm and done more damage or the power was out longer, we could have all been in a lot of trouble without a good storm kit,” Monique agreed.

“I think I want to be a weather person when I grow up,” Javier said.

“They are called meteorologists,” Jayne said.

“Okay, I want to be a meteorologist when I grow up. I really liked the way they told everyone a storm was coming and where it was going to be bad. They really saved a lot of people’s lives,” Javier said.


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