Hacked – by the Russians on Christmas Day!

On Christmas morning I checked my email but got an error message – strange, but maybe not unusual since we’re high in the western highlands of Guatemala.  Tried a couple of hours later but the same error.  Hmmm…so I checked to see if our blog was OK and was shocked to see we’d been hacked with this ransomware message:


This started a week into a world I didn’t know or understand, but I wasn’t going to pay a ransom! Christmas Day was a Sunday so I had to wait until Tuesday to reach my host provider.  They said our domain was hacked/ambushed but it appeared our data on the host server was still OK.  This is how the “whois” database looked like:

After working with the domain registrar, proving who I was and resetting DNS settings, slowly things came back to normal.

So if the Russians can control our US elections, Yahoo lost a billion accounts to hackers, and Trump says “any computer can be hacked”, what hope is there for our little blog?!

Happy New Year to all our friends and family!

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“Cutting the cable” – literally

We take the Alamo bus line from Guatemala City to Xela, about a 4+ hour trip. It’s a route filled with hair-pin curves as we head into the western highlands of the country up to about 7,500′.

These are previous life Greyhound buses from the US but they’re still in pretty good shape. Finally coming into Xela and starting to navigate narrow streets, our driver was stymied by a loose wire dangling down blocking his path.

All buses here have an assistant so our assistant got out, tried to figure how to move the cable, couldn’t succeed, so he started to cut it, but to no avail!  It wouldn’t cut!  Finally, after about 5 minutes, blocking traffic and honking horns behind us, the assistant jumped back in and the driver simply and slowly drove into the cable, tore it down and kept on going.  Wish I had a picture of that!  This is the junction of wires to our apartment building – very common here!

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After deployment – tourists to Washington, D.C.

After being released from my FEMA deployment, Leslie and I wanted to see and visit an area where she lived as a teenager while her Marine Corps Dad was stationed at Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, NC.  During that time, her Dad bought about 50 acres of undeveloped land along the inland waterway and sub-divided it, installing streets and infrastructure, then selling off the lots for custom homes.

Leslie has her own street!

We spent about a week in D.C. before heading back to Guatemala.  I personally enjoyed seeing the two Air and Space museums (the one at Dulles airport and the original on the mall) but we stopped into our Congresswoman’s office and received guest passes to watch both the House and Senate in session from the gallery.

But the sessions were boring.  In the House, congressmen stood before an empty chamber, read their printed speech then handed it to someone in front of the Speaker’s chair.  This exercise was merely to get the speech printed into the Federal Register (official document of proceedings) so the Congressman could tell his constituents back home he gave an impassioned speech before his colleagues about whatever. We left after half an hour…!

But we were lucky this trip.  A “super” full moon with clear weather over the mall.  We deliberately visited the Lincoln memorial at sunset and early evening to catch this view.

After being gone from “home” for almost 2 months, living and working in multiple locations, it was great getting back to Xela again!

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2nd FEMA deployment – Hurricane Matthew

I’d only been back “home” to Xela for about a week after my deployment to Louisiana but was already following Matthew’s progress across the Atlantic. Many hurricanes start off the coast of Africa and drift over towards the Caribbean and Matthew was doing the same.  It was forecast to be big and hit somewhere along Florida, so long story short, Leslie and I flew into Orlando the day before Matthew hit.

In Louisiana I’d noticed large staging areas in church parking lots for disaster relief like after Katrina, so I told Leslie that if she came with me maybe she could volunteer in disaster relief efforts while I did my FEMA inspections.

After Matthew slowly paralleled the eastern seaboard, I was assigned to work initially in North Carolina and later across the state line into South Carolina. Flooding was still actively happening because heavy rains inland were flooding streams and rivers downriver. Driving up I-95 from Orlando it was awesome seeing so much flooding everywhere, wind damage and massive trees downed everywhere – including blocking the freeway. Crews were furiously cutting back the downed trees opening up the freeway.

We’d crossed into NC and jumped onto I-74 east to check into our field office in Wilmington but as we crested a small hill we saw traffic ahead slowing down and semi-trucks pulling over onto the shoulder.  The sight we saw past the traffic and down a gentle hill was unbelievable. A levee had just broken, flooding the entire countryside below us for miles (including the freeway) under a torrential, fast flowing flood. I wished I’d taken a video! This happened so fast there weren’t any highway patrol officers, barricades, warnings, just the first cars and trucks pulling over, stopping and getting out to look.

Again, long story short, we had to make a 5 hour detour back down into SC and over to the coast before we got to Wilmington. At a local EOC (Emergency Operations Center) we were warned to never travel at night and be extremely cautious driving on state and county roads because of washouts.

Imagine driving along and seemingly the road ahead looks okay, but there’s nothing there to hold it up except the asphalt itself!

After working in NC for about a week or so, I was transferred to Mullins, SC.  Leslie hooked up with the local EOC and was put to work helping to set up a food distribution center.

This center wasn’t open to the public.  Rather, it was the “master” intake center from which donated items would be received, organized and then transferred to the various public community sites.

I was amazed at how significant the flooding was from Matthew.  For a couple of weeks or so I’d traveled this stretch of countryside and been amazed at the high water mark along the woods at the edge of this field.  It was very pronounced immediately after the flood subsided but slowly the vegetation started to green up again.  I wish I’d taken this photo immediately after the water went down, but you can still see how high the flood was in this area (maybe about 20′).

I’d just inspected a 2 story home close to this train bridge and the devastated family said there had never been water as high as the bridge, yet the flood almost reached their roof and was over the train tracks.

Deployments are hard work, physically and emotionally.  Long days, devastated communities and shock and tears as families and I walk into their homes for the first time after the water has receded.

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