Column – Storm of events

Published 12:58 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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For one minute, the world was in perfect symmetry. In a year that read the same backward as forward, February 20, 2002, brought 60 seconds of palindromic perfection. The time, day, month and year all aligned at 8:02 p.m. Written in military time and with numerals for the month and day, it worked out to 20:02, 02/20, 2002. “A mirror day like this is a good opportunity for reflecting,” said Mark Saltveit, editor of The Palindromist magazine.

In June, two days of stormy weather prevented the crewmen of the International Space Station from being reunited with their families after a separation of 6-1/2 months. Mission Control told space shuttle Endeavour commander Kenneth Cockrell that drier weather was expected soon. A problem was brewing in orbit because of all the homecoming delays: The seven astronauts and cosmonauts were running short on coffee. Cockrell jokingly asked Mission Control if he could swing by the space station and get the extra coffee he left there for the three new residents.

As the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approached, the Bush administration raised the nationwide terror alert to its second-highest level, closed nine U.S. embassies overseas and heightened security at federal buildings and landmarks in America as new intelligence warned of car bombings, suicide attacks and other strikes linked to the anniversary. Americans were urged to be alert but unbowed — go to work, to school, on trips — despite specific threats against U.S. interests abroad and less credible concerns that terrorists might attack America again.

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In April of 2003, several local veterans said they felt like celebrating as they watched news broadcasts of the Iraqi people tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein in front of his Baghdad palace. They also want to thank the military men and women who seized the opulent palace and toppled a 40-foot sculpture of the Iraqi ruler, and they said they would gladly join in the fighting if Uncle Sam would have them as “Operation Iraqi Freedom” continued. 

In September 2003, a storm was making a beeline for Hampton Roads. The headline of the September 18 paper read, “Thousands flee hurricane; ruinous flooding possible.” The next day the headline was ‘SLAMMED.’

“As the large eye of the weakened Hurricane Isabel moved in from the Outer Banks, Suffolk, along with other Hampton Roads cities, was hit hard. The city’s police, fire and rescue workers worked throughout the day and night, responding to multiple reports of downed trees and power lines throughout the city. A 7 p.m. curfew was put into effect in Suffolk Thursday. By 4 p.m. Thursday, flooding had closed portions of several major arteries in the downtown area, including Constance Road, North Main Street and Pitchkettle Road, said Dana Woodson, a city spokeswoman. Fallen trees left several dozen roads and streets across the city impassable, Woodson said. Isabel’s roaring winds — measured at 64 miles per hour by fire department officials at around 4 pm. — also knocked trees on at least 20 houses Thursday afternoon, she said.” 

Headlines in the following weeks detailed the damage. ‘What a mess!’ ‘70% of Suffolk is without water; 90% without power’ ‘Local damages in tens of millions’ ‘9 dead, 200 mile wide swath of destruction through Virginia’ 

In the end, it was estimated the storm cost the city at least $715 million.