Last week, the northeast experienced a 5.8 earthquake. We are unaccustomed to earthquakes in this part of the country. Those of you who have lived or are living in earthquake prone areas would be laughing at our collective reaction. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries or major structural damage. In New Jersey, we had some shaking, weird swaying and just an overall odd sensation. Some people didn’t even notice it.
While people in New York City were fleeing buildings and walking briskly across the Brooklyn Bridge, I was cleaning out my garage, unaware of what was happening. I had just finished when I heard a strange noise that sounded like scratching. Immediately, my mind flashed back to this past winter when I heard a similar scratching noise coming from under the hood of my car where I found a field mouse scurrying around the engine. The odd noise continued and got a bit louder. I looked up and saw the springs and wires of the automatic garage door bouncing and swaying – the source of the noise. I stood there in amazement wondering what was making that happen. My first thought was a mouse running over the wires, but then I realized that it was happening on both doors. That would have meant there was a major mouse exodus going on. When the swaying became more pronounced, my next thought was that a larger, heavier critter was causing the movement. Nervously, I looked around expecting to see a squirrel, but I saw nothing. As the swaying reached its peak I thought, “What’s bigger than a squirrel that could be shaking the doors so much; a raccoon?” I stood mesmerized in my garage staring at the jiggling springs and wires expecting beady little bandit eyes to peer back at me. I had one hand firmly gripping the doorknob ready to make a break for it if the animal decided to launch an aerial assault from its perch. This entire thought process took less than a minute. The wires and springs stopped moving. Still believing I was sharing the garage with a raccoon, I pushed the button to close the garage doors fully expecting an animal to bolt – hopefully, in the direction of the great outdoors. The doors closed without incident and I entered the house puzzled, but thrilled that I had not seen any animals.
Within seconds my phone rang. “Are you okay?” my husband asked.
“Okay? Why wouldn’t I be okay?” I was confused. How could he possibly know about my potential close encounter of the rodent kind?
“Didn’t you just feel that shaking?” he questioned.
“I didn’t feel any shaking, but the garage door springs and wires were swaying and bouncing. I thought there was some sort of critter in there with me. How did you know that?” I asked, still confused.
“It wasn’t a rodent shaking the wires. It was an earthquake.” he stated emphatically.
“An earthquake? Here? We don’t have earthquakes here.” I replied, stunned at his news. An earthquake hadn’t even registered on my mental radar screen. That was almost as absurd as a raccoon terrorizing me in my clean garage during daylight hours.
“Seriously, it was an earthquake,” he said. As he finished speaking I could hear the public address system in his office building announcing the news.
I sighed in relief. “Oh, thank God it wasn’t a raccoon!”
Media coverage of the east coast earthquake continued for hours offering personal accounts, earthquake survival information, interviews with geologists, animated graphics of the mechanics of an earthquake and an endless loop of footage showing people running from buildings. The only thing worthy of shaking this earthquake out of the news was the impending threat of Hurricane Irene. News stories were dominated by spaghetti models of Irene’s potential path, hurricane preparedness segments and images of the destruction left in Irene’s wake meant to serve as a warning to us. As the storm traveled closer to our area, the hourly news updates turned into non-stop meteorological hype, whipping people into a frenzy. Stores were full of people and emptied of supplies. Lines at gas stations rivaled those during the gas crisis in the 1970s.
My husband and I stocked up on all the necessary hurricane survival supplies and prepared our home. As it turned out, cleaning the garage during the earthquake made room for the outdoor furniture and potted plants we needed to store during the hurricane. We were as ready as we could be and were well aware that we might lose power, water or both, once the storm kicked into full gear. While we were waiting for Irene’s arrival we decided to tackle a project on our to-do list: replacing two ceiling fans. Fresh from Blue-Collar Fantasy Camp last week, my husband was on a handyman high and claimed he’d be able to safely and correctly disconnect and reconnect the ceiling fans. I wasn’t feeling as confident as he was, but knew we had my dad, a true handyman, on speed dial as a back-up.
It all started off so well. My husband was actually reading the instructions. I had high hopes for this project’s success. I reminded him to turn off the power to the fans before disconnecting them and stood nearby ready to assist as necessary. He managed to disconnect the first fan. Woo-hoo! I was beginning to think that his blue-collar experience had taught him a few new tricks. I began fantasizing about the things he would now be able to fix. I was quickly brought back to reality when I heard my husband yell, “Yow!” Then yank his arm back.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I guess I got a zap,” he said, shaking his one arm while balancing on our bed holding the dangling fan in his other hand. “That kind of hurt,” he stated matter-of- factly.
“I thought you turned off the power. How did you get zapped if the power is off?” I asked.
He smiled at me and said, “I turned off the switch. I thought that would be enough. I’ve seen your dad do it that way.”
“Ah, yes, but my dad knows what he is doing and I’m pretty sure he always turns the power off. Besides, you should err on the side of caution since you’re a beginner,” I lectured.
Unfazed by his brush with electricity, my husband proceeded to the next task in our fan switcheroo project. He headed downstairs to get the ladder. When he reached the bottom step I yelled down, “Don’t forget to turn off the power while you’re down there.”
He returned upstairs a few minutes later and began to disconnect the second ceiling fan. Again, I was nearby in case he needed an extra pair of hands. He was moving the disconnected fan away when two wires touched. I heard a pop and saw sparks shooting out of the wires before the lights went out.
“What the hell was that?!” I screamed.
“I guess the wires touched,” he replied, still standing on the ladder holding the disconnected fan.
“I thought you turned off the power at the breaker when you went down to get the ladder. How could this happen?” I asked.
“The breaker is off now,” he said casually.
I was freaking out running to the breaker box when I heard him, “This is exactly what the breaker is for. Don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry! Don’t worry! I just saw an indoor fireworks display on my ceiling! I smell smoke!” I yelled back. “I’m not even sure how to put out an electrical fire!” I added. “We’ve lost power and the hurricane hasn’t even started. Do you think the power company has time for this?” I was nearly hysterical and so angry I was pretty sure I was creating my own smoke.
Once I was at the breaker box I realized only the breaker to that room had been tripped. We hadn’t lost power to the entire house. Not knowing which breaker controlled the rooms with the fans, I threw the power to the whole house hoping it would come back on when I needed it to. It’s one thing to lose power during a hurricane. It is another situation entirely to lose it before a hurricane because of the foolish risk-taking of a cocky dabbler in electricity.
Without the threat of electrocution and fire, things went more smoothly and the ceiling fans were installed. When I switched the main breaker back on we were relieved to see the fans, along with everything else, working. Later that night the storm began raging with its high winds and heavy rain. The noise of it woke me so I decided to inspect the house. When I turned on the lights, they began to flicker on and off. I wasn’t sure if that was a result of the hurricane or my husband’s electrical mishap. Irene left our area with flooded rivers, damaged homes, power outages and downed trees. Luckily, this week we survived some of the worst Mother Nature has to offer, but my husband’s blatant disregard for the power of electricity almost did us in.