16 years later: DLA Distribution forklift mechanic remembers Hurricane Isabel 

By Beth Reece

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Governor Mark Warner called it “probably the worst storm in a generation” when Hurricane Isabel slammed into Virginia in September 2003. Its 85 mph winds thrashed through trees surrounding Ben Stoline’s home so ferociously it took him three days to clear limbs and debris that blanketed his yard in Chesapeake, Virginia. 

Dozens of hurricanes have howled along the eastern shoreline in the past decade and a half, but Stoline still talks about Isabel like it happened yesterday. 

“We got really lucky. I lost a few trees though none of them fell over my house. Our roof didn’t blow off, and our carpet and drywall weren’t soaked,” said the forklift mechanic for Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Norfolk, Virginia.

Still, Isabel left the most damage of any storm his family and neighbors could recall in that area. The power was out for four days. Businesses were closed, and Stoline’s boss told him to stay home as first responders cleared roads and restored power. 

Hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30 with the peak lasting from mid-August to late October. Hurricanes are one of the many emergencies highlighted every September when the Federal Emergency Management Agency promotes disaster planning. This year’s theme – Prepared, Not Scared – is one Stoline proudly personifies.  

“If you don’t prepare ahead of time, what’s going to happen is at the last minute when there’s no time to evacuate, you’re going to be out there waiting in a long line for limited supplies,” he said in late August as Americans in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas kept close track of Hurricane Dorian’s path up the east coast from the Bahamas. 

Stoline went to three or more stores collecting everything from batteries and canned tuna to gas for the grill and cars before Isabel’s arrival. Because he was prepared, those four days without electricity and water were a lot like camping, he said. He ran the generator in short spurts to preserve gas and cooked hamburgers on the grill rather than letting the meat waste in a thawing freezer. And before the milk in the fridge could spoil, his family drank it.

“I remember my kids were little at the time. It was hot and muggy with nowhere to get air conditioning. And there was no TV to watch, so the kids were outside playing in the mud puddles and running around. They were actually having fun,” he said.

Seeing news coverage two years later of the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina in Florida and Louisiana strengthened Stoline’s resolve to take hurricane warnings and evacuation orders seriously. 

“I saw those pictures of people’s homes ruined with 4 and 5 feet of water inside,” he said. “It broke my heart.”

Stoline first heard of Hurricane Dorian while watching the 5 a.m. news Aug. 27. Then, it was a Category 1 storm moving west from Africa, but he was ready, having checked his hurricane supplies in July. Experience has taught him that storm warnings and watches are only predictions; sometimes storms go exactly where computer models indicate, sometimes they don’t. And since forecasts usually don’t go out longer than five days due to hurricanes’ unpredictability, he said it’s important to check news reports often.

With the peak of hurricane season here, Stoline is already preparing for winter. Since losing power during an exceptionally cold spell last year, he’s added a propane heater to his winter prep kit. 

“Most everything I’ve got at home to get me through a hurricane will get me through a winter storm if we lose power. But I’m always thinking of adding new items,” he said.

Next on his wish list is a water purifier he discovered at a gun show recently.

“It sounds extreme,” he said, “but what if the responders can’t get to you?” 

Guidelines for preparing for a hurricane and surviving during and after the storm are available at www.ready.gov/hurricanes. More information on National Preparedness Month is available at www.ready.gov/september.

Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series of National Preparedness Month articles about Defense Logistics Agency employees who’ve experienced a natural disaster.