About 8:00AM the Red Cross staff served some breakfast of orange juice, coffee, and stale pastries. Once again Brenda and I volunteered to help setup and serve then had our breakfast. Coffee helped clear my head and when I was finished eating and cleaning up I approached the Red Cross woman in charge of the shelter. I explained my situation and she promised to put me in contact with someone from the auto shop. Sure enough, about an hour later she approached me with a young man who introduced himself as the son of the auto shop owner. He asked me if I was the person who had been towed in Wednesday afternoon and I acknowledged I was.
The man explained that the shop had suffered some roof damage but was otherwise OK, so my truck should be fine. I asked about getting my truck towed back to Gautier, knowing that AAA would cover the first 100 miles. The man shook his head and told me “there’s no one in this town who’ll tow your truck.” He did offer to open up the shop so I could get my personal belongings still in my truck.
Brenda was with us during this discussion. I’d had a glimmer of an idea earlier that morning and now made her an offer; that she drive me home and stay at my place until Orange Beach was reopened. She thought for a very short moment and agreed.
I grabbed my suitcase from the shelter while Brenda packed up her belongings, loaded them into her large van, and we followed the man over to the auto shop. Sure enough the concrete auto shop had weathered the storm reasonably well compared to other Brewton buildings and my truck was undamaged. I pulled out my personal belongings and loaded them into Brenda’s van. The man gave me the shop’s contact information and suggested I wait at least a week before calling, as he expected it would take that long to get power and phone service restored.
Brenda and I drove off on highway 41 west towards I-65. As we left the town we viewed trees and power lines down all along the highway. Houses had missing roofs and collapsed porches, and yards were covered with debris.
Things started looking better once we were on I-65 heading south. Cellphone service came back and I was able to make calls while Brenda drove. I first called Terry to let him know I was OK and heading for home. Then I called my cousin Grace who promptly scolded me for not calling her sooner. My cellphone battery was dying so I made a final quick call to mom to let her know I was fine. Mom promised to let the rest of the family know.
Storm damages decreased the further west we drove. We hit I-10 and by the time we were in Pascagoula (the town just to the east of Gautier) there were essentially no indications a storm ever blew through. We passed the shipyard where I worked and I saw it was already back to normal operations, meaning I had just lost another day of vacation time for not being there.
We finally arrived back at my house about 4:00PM. My house, with its plywood window covers, looked forlorn and abandoned compared to the rest of the neighborhood. It was at this point I accepted that evacuating was probably the worst possible decision I could have made.
I opened up the house and helped Brenda bring in her luggage. As we were unloading her van my neighbor Beth came over loaded with questions. I briefly explained what had happened, explained that we really needed baths and food, and promised to fill in all the details the next day. Beth had “the look” in her eyes as I helped Brenda inside my house.
Next item on my To-Do list was to let Winnie know I was OK. I had promised to call her from Terry’s house Wednesday night, but without cellphone service or Internet access I’d had no way of contacting her. With either a 12 or 13 hour time zone difference (depending upon daylight savings) our normal routine was an on-line chat at 6:00AM and 6:00PM each day with Friday nights and Saturday mornings being our big “date nights.” By the time I helped Brenda get settled in the guest bedroom and scrounged some sandwiches for us it was just about 6:00PM and morning in China.
I set-up my computer, turned it on, and brought up the webcam chat service. Sure enough, Winnie was on-line waiting for me. Winnie had heard about our storm through Chinese news and had been worried about me. She told me that when I didn’t contact her she e-mailed Howard asking about me. Howard had replied truthfully, but not helpfully, that my truck had broken down going to Terry’s house and no one knew where I was.
I quickly explained what had happened and how I got back home. We chatted for a few more minutes and then I excused myself, explaining that I really needed a shower and sleep. I promised to chat the next morning at our regular time.
Brenda was already in her room and presumably asleep. I took a much needed shower and crawled into my bed for the best sleep I’d had in three days.