It's 6:24 a.m. on Monday, December 15, 2008, as I write this. We're well into our fourth straight day without power, landlines, cable, and Internet. The thankfully constant whine of the 15kW generator is so present as to nearly disappear, yet its absence is immediately noticeable when it stops due to oil consumption, which is becoming more frequent the longer it runs.
Few of my neighbors are so fortunate. There aren't many of us on this dead-end stretch of road in the woods of southern New Hampshire, and at most have had to try to drain their water and heating system and abandon their houses -- the two others are getting by, sleeping around a central wood stove, hoping their pipes aren't freezing. From what I understand, there are still hundreds of thousands of families going through the same situation. We've brought water and coffee around, offering showers and so forth, trying to get by. Cell phones work only sporadically since most of the cell towers are still out as well. Temperatures are finally climbing past 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but were hovering around 5 degrees for the past few days. It's very cold.
Driving on the main highways is like taking a trip though a fun house. On a 30-mile trip the other day, I saw at least 50 separate sections of power lines pulled down by ice covered trees. The roadsides are littered with debris from the trees cleared by the state crews. In places, it looks like boxes of massively oversized toothpicks were dropped and scattered around the land.
My lab is completely down and is suddenly a mausoleum. Hulks of high-end server, storage, and network equipment sit in their racks, cold, idle. The lights don't blink, the disks don't spin, and the bits do not pass. In a normal situation, the lab would have stayed running in some capacity. I would have shut down the heaviest power consumers and kept the lab infrastructure running, but not for this long. Not with the sudden scarcity and inflated cost of propane. There's something extremely discomfiting about it; for years it has constantly been busy and full of noise and energy. This extended silence is chilling.
The generator is LP-powered and was running from a single 120-gallon tank that was perhaps 60 percent full when the storm came through. That lasted for nearly 60 hours, and repeated calls to my gas company elicited no promises of a refill. I called them when I was nearly out and they told me that they "didn't think they had any more propane" and hung up on me.
Most propane storage tanks on private property are actually owned by the gas company, not the property owner. I finally had another company come to refill my tanks only to be refused delivery, with 800 gallons of LP sitting in the truck, 10 feet from my nearly-empty tank. It's illegal for a gas company to fill another company's tanks; apparently that trumps an official state of emergency situation.