Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hurricane Journal: Final Thoughts

Hurricane Sandy descended upon New Jersey one month ago today.  Weeks later, reading over my hurricane journal from the benefit of a warm, well-lit house, it seems like our experience was rather a penny crisis.  No one in my family was hurt and the damage to my house was both cosmetic and minor.  My friends also fared well.  Though my county was among the hardest hit, people in nearby areas like the Jersey Shore and Staten Island had far greater damage.  The state of New Jersey estimates that the storm caused more than 30 billion dollars worth of damage but I don't need that number to factor the devastation caused by the storm.   Every day I see stands of once-familiar woods rendered permanently changed by the sheer volume of trees felled.  Every street in my neighborhood features houses with damage, piles of branches, or trees chopped into firewood and stacked neatly.  My 8 cold dark days are more toward the long end of the electricity-free spectrum but on November 11, when I first started preparing these notes to post on my blog, more than 1,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey remained without power, not counting the homes on the shore that are destroyed for good or will remain inaccessible for months to come.  We were lucky and we are blessed.

Even so, I'm struck by the number of conversations about the storm that I still hear.  I am aware of the way some of the fear and anxiety of a week spent in the darkness and cold can linger.  When I finally took the plunge and drove to get heat and a semblance of normalcy on day six after the storm, I was still seriously concerned about the gasoline shortages.  My car was the only way I could charge my phone and our only sure way of getting warm, not to mention get out of the state should it come to that.  To let the gas tank get below half seemed risky.  Even six days after the storm, dozens of traffic lights remained down and most of my regular routes out of town were blocked off.  

For days after the storm, I would see power crews from other states and the sight of these fleets of trucks would bring sudden tears to my eyes.  I've written their names down, these strangers from states far away from New Jersey.  I saw trucks from Ohio, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Iowa.  A crew from Nebraska was responsible for re-connecting the wires at T's house.  I'm not sure I can express how much hope the sight of these crews inspired in me.  They were a welcome reminder that we weren't alone and that help was on the job.  I know it sounds corny, but I wrote the names of the companies down and I've sent every one of them a note to say thank you.   

I am more convinced than ever that extreme weather conditions like Sandy will be more common as we move forward.  I have enduring hope that as New Jersey and the area resumes its new normal, we will take action to prepare ourselves for our changing planet.  Updating the power grid, disaster preparedness, and responsible policies to curb global warming seem like such obvious policies to adopt.  I've long-favored them, of course, but these days the issue has risen to the top of my political priorities.  I suspect that I'm not alone.

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