Weathering the Storm: Where Do We Go From Here?

The worst of circumstances — the combination of a Nor’easter and a tropical storm — brought out the best in people. When the final coat of paint covers the last bit of evidence, it’s the kindness that I want to remember.

As I sat in Chicago waiting on a departing flight, I couldn’t help wishing I could stay a bit longer. It was a great weekend. Industry pros LaShaun Brown-Glenn and Millie Haynam hosted the “Breakthrough to Success” nail training camp.

My return flight was delayed — weather. After being rerouted, I finally made my way to Atlanta, where the weather (the remnants of Ida) had deteriorated. The storms seemed to follow me north as I flew to Virginia. What I didn’t know then was that Virginia was in for a “perfect storm” of sorts, two fronts coming together violently, and producing flooding and damages that would rival Hurricane Isabel’s wrath on Hampton Roads. Six years had passed since Isabel (the costliest and deadliest hurricane of 2003) hit — and we were just beginning to recover.

After Isabel we worked to repair our home and salon, installed a generator, stocked up on gas, bought an RV, and were even more diligent about supplies. We did all the things that would make us feel better, like it would never happen again if we did. Only, it did happen again.

By midday on November 12, 2009, all my clients had cancelled. I headed out in my 4x4 to take a cell phone to my mom, to stock up, and to take gas to family, friends, and clients who had been cut off by flooding. It was low tide and I knew I had to be out of Poquoson before 2:30 p.m. I told my brother-in-law that was the cutoff if he, my sister, and the pets wanted a ride out. They were staying. They had moved the cars to higher ground. As I finished dropping off gas, I made a quick detour by their house. After double-checking (and a quick restroom break), I ran back out. The water was high enough at low tide to give me pause when I went in and it had risen dramatically within minutes. It was halfway up the mailbox on my right and the truck felt like it was floating. I remember thinking it, but didn’t realize until I watched video from my dash cam that I was actually talking to myself: “Oh sh**.” I couldn’t get out straight and had to turn. Up ahead, there was pavement ... but I got stuck.

My first thought was to get out but I didn’t know for sure how high the water was. A truck several hundred feet away tried to drive in. They went to get rope. I tried my cell but after dialing several local numbers and getting nothing, I called LaShaun at work — in Chicago!

“Just stay on the phone with me until they come back to help,” I asked her. She asked me where I was. I sent her a picture on my cell as the water continued to rise. She didn’t hang up until help came back and made me promise to call when I got home. It was all going to be fine. I was shook up but safe.

As I came down the street, I could see the tree on my salon. My heart sank. I took a single picture on my cell and went to work to free it. I was soaked by the time I went inside to see the damage. A wall and part of the floor was buckling, blinds were on the floor, and polish and supplies were everywhere. The leather massage/pedicure chair was toast — as was the pedicure bath, the UV light, the air conditioner, and the air purifier. Water was everywhere. I was in shock.

I grabbed my neighbor Denise and went to the home improvement store for more supplies. As we grabbed tarps, tape, and bleach, we could hear the roof groaning under the weight of the gusts. On the way back we decided it was too dangerous to secure the salon in the dark; it would have to wait for daylight.

Safe at home, it started to sink in. The lights were blinking and we expected to lose power. My husband was at work; he thought I should shut off the breakers and prep the generator to prevent damage to the house. I was unlocking the outdoor electrical panel when the power lines came down mere feet from me. The flash was so big it burned my eyes, but I was protected by my sailing jacket. I called Denise for help, but while on the phone heard a huge crash and felt the earth shake, so I ran to her house. We only got through to help after calling a friend, Hayley, who lives one town over. “Hang up and dial 911 and give them my address,” I told her. Minutes later a dispatcher called my cell; the fire department was on the way.

I stood in the street with neighbors as the firemen finished assessing the situation. The power was out all over. The fireman shook his head. There was nothing they could do to help at that point. The fire engines pulled away and moments later Hayley and her husband pulled up in his 4x4. With flashlights, her husband tried to look around. I said, “It will look better in the morning,” but they knew that wasn’t true.

The new garage workshop was gone, and a second building bore the weight of a tree. The tree hit with such force that it cracked the walls in every room of the house and damaged the roof and windows.

My cell phone, Facebook, and Twitter became my lifeline. The neighbors made sure we knew we had a place to stay. My next door neighbors rallied friends to do tree removal once the power lines were safe. Once power was restored, the salon became my first priority. Clients, friends, and neighbors helped clean up and do repairs.

Then the boxes came. I was overwhelmed by the encouragement and support of beauty professionals — some of whom I had never met. Fellow nail educators Holly Schippers, Robin Kettering, Diane MacQuoid, and LaShaun sent me care packages to help me get back to work. They sent whatever they could spare, including everything from nail brushes to polish remover. It didn’t matter what company we worked for. They made it clear that we were all part of a larger family.

It’s been months since Nor’ Ida pounded us for three days and I’m just able to write about it. The trauma of the close calls and damage are eclipsed only by the kindness of others. We are far from putting the pieces back together and I have asked those close to me to keep reminding me that it will be OK. For now, it is fresh enough in all of our minds that the name on the polish bottle or the fact that the pedicure chair doesn’t work doesn’t matter. Half of my clients were affected. As time fades our memories of the storm, I know they will again be replaced by the idea of having the highest-end services, this or that product, and perfect decor. I think in some ways that means we are healing.

A Note from NAILS

We’re happy to report that as of this writing, Erin has managed to restock her salon shelves with the basics and is offering a pared-down service menu.

But she’s not there yet. She still has to repair the motor of her pedicure/massage chair and replace the paraffin bath and foot bath. As far as the salon structure goes, she needs to repair or replace one wall, seven windows, and the floor.

If you’d like to offer moral support or encouragement, or even nail items or cash, you can reach Erin at PO Box 1189, Newport News, VA 23601. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

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