Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hurricane Journal: Sandy at One Year

As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy has approached, my local public radio station has  been asking listeners "how is your life different since the storm?"  My first response to the question was to consider that nothing had really fundamentally changed.  My home wasn't damaged beyond repair, my life and my town were not completely upended.  Within a few weeks of the storm, I no longer startled when the electricity flashed.  I quickly resumed a normal life.

Upon reflection, though, I realize that it's rather a new normal.  In my daily life, I still see evidence of the storm.  Everywhere I go are trees and branches now down for good; wides swaths of the woods now different.  On virtually every street I drive each day are power lines that have been re-hung since the storm.  On my street and many streets all around me are homes in the midst of repair.  I am more aware than ever that my share of the storm damage was both limited and small.  I am incredibly grateful for that blessing.  In the bigger picture, when I hear stories of weather apocalypse elsewhere, I am immediately on alert and sympathetic to the meaning of such events in people's daily lives.  I never see a power crew, whether in-state or out-of-state, without waving a friendly greeting.  I check the weather forecast and pay careful attention to forecasts that may deviate from normal.  My emergency supplies are up-to-date.  So life is back to normal but it is a new normal.

I'm also aware that neither my state nor my local government has done enough to prepare for the next super-storm.   There is half-hearted recognition of climate change around here, though no conversations or specific plans to adjust our lives to it or, heaven-forbid, change our lives to protect the planet.  Billions of dollars have been spent on Sandy repairs but a lot of practical preparation for the larger community is yet un-done.  On the Jersey shore, people are still demanding to live in flood-prone areas (and they want government-subsidized and cheap flood insurance to do so).  In the meantime, plenty of middle-class folks are still struggling to effect repairs to their flood-damaged homes and businesses.  Our state has only recently developed a plan for getting back-up electricity to gas stations or towns in the event of widespread power losses.  Few details of that plan have been shared with the public.  There has been no state-wide conversation about household disaster readiness.  

What has changed for me since Sandy is that I know we must do all of these things.  We must adjust our lives to the reality of climate change.  I remember how tenuous civilization feels in the face of disaster.  I see that we have a great deal of work to complete.

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