So, as of 1:00 pm yesterday, our low-lying seaside neighborhood has been under a “mandatory” evacuation order. They say “mandatory” because the lawyers tell them to. No one is going to come poking around to physically remove you. But after they utter the word “mandatory” the authorities can absolve themselves of responsibility if anything happens to you (and, more to the point, they can absolve themselves of liability if they fail to act).
We had been planning to go even before the order came down. A few hearty souls in our neighborhood of about 100 houses have stayed behind. They tended to be the ones with the generators and plywood — and also the ones whose houses enjoyed that extra two or three above sea level that builds confidence among marine home owners during a tidal surge.
We decamped inland to higher ground, but are getting regular bulletins. So far, the report is very windy, no water in the streets or over the sea walls. Did you know that tides describe an irresistible sine wave — irresistible, I mean, to those on the receiving end. As it happens, this is one of the highest tides of the month (“higher than normal astronomical tides” is how the weather service puts it). With the new moon, the arc is swinging from about -.3 feet, which happened around 5:30 this morning, to a big tide of more than 8 feet around 11:30 this morning. That should be about the moment that Irene starts hitting her stride there with winds of about 75 mph pushing water into the Sound, over our sea walls, and into the waiting houses.
The water is bad enough. But another thing to worry about is all the debris Irene will be chucking up on shore: wooden beams, buoys, rugged bits of stuff that used to belong to, or used to be, boats, even a park bench has been known to be vomited forth from the sea. So we are waiting on tenterhooks for the morning high tide to pass. As Irene pass, the wind direction from the cyclone will shift from an easterly to a westerly orientation, i.e., from a direction pushing water at us to pushing it away from us. At the moment, we do not know when that will happen.
A friend with a sense of humor sent me this reassuring story: “Obama Takes Charge at Hurricane Center.” “Now you can sleep well tonight,” he said. Hardly that. I mean really: does he look like a man who has a clue about what to do? Ponder the official NOAA name plate emblazoned with “Barack Obama President of the United States.” Why does that seem ridiculous? After all, he is the President of the United States. Maybe it’s because it put me in mind of that iconic image of Mike Dukakis in his tank. Anyway, if it failed to be reassuring, it did introduce a welcome moment of levity.