Everyone in New York or New Jersey has a story to tell about what happened during Hurricane Sandy. Here’s mine. Not because it is particularly entertaining, enlightening or inspirational, but just for posterity.
It all started around Tuesday when I began hearing about a huge storm coming up the coast. It still had a 50/50 chance of turning out to sea but it didn’t stop all of the over-reacting hive-minds from emptying the stores of milk, bread, eggs and water. Not that I was too bothered because I always have a ready stockpile: A case of water, a case of gatorade, 6 quarts of various juice, a six pack of organic “doesn’t need a fridge” milk, a dozen cans of veggies, a propane generator with 30 pounds of fuel, 3 sump pumps, 2 oil lanterns, 2 propane lanterns and flashlights a-plenty… and I didn’t even have to go to the store this week. I love it when a plan comes together!
By Friday the Governor was ordering evacuations and it was pretty clear the storm was going to hit somewhere in our area. It was an otherwise slow news week and the giddiness of the “reporters” was truly disgusting. They seemed ever so pleased to have something to say – even if it was “Cuba is getting battered but I’m safe in downtown New York!” Sandy heard that and took offense at being called “Frankenstorm”. I think it is the epitome of bad taste to be coming up with snarky marketing terms for anything that caused billions in damage and had 100+ people feared dead or missing in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas. But, hey – that’s show business, right? Superimpose the head of Frankenstein’s monster spinning in the air over a the Caribbean and enjoy those ratings!
Anyway, by Sunday we had hunkered down pretty well and stowed or tied down everything that could move. The “reporting” had reached a level of hyperbole that I couldn’t tell if they were trying to be serious or just trying to out fantastic the channel next door. Monday came and things had gotten pretty scary already. With my family freaking out I opted to stay at home rather than go into the office just to be sent home when the power went out. We went dark at 2:20 PM. I setup the generator, ran the extension cords and settled in for the long dark. Word on the street was that the power company had turned off the grid at the source in anticipation of lots of problems. Whatever the cause, I must not have been too worried because I decided to take a nap. I woke up around 4:30 as the sun was getting low and took a walk up to the end of the street to see the bay. The wind was insane and the trees were whipping all around. The remaining leaves were being shredded and the air was filled with colorful confetti. As I got near the bay I could hear the tide. Tide? We don’t get waves here on the bay, right? You sure as hell do when they’re backed by 60-80 mph winds! It was still a few hours before high tide and the water was cresting over the seawall and the waves were lashing the upper walkway. I couldn’t stand there too long as the rain coming sideways hurt and I was getting soaked by the spray. I retreated to the house, fired up the generator to chill the fridge for the night, lit the lanterns and read stories to Allison who had a perplexed and worried look but didn’t seem to be actually scared.
During the night I was awakened by the cessation of tempest noise and figured we might have been in the Eye of the Sandy. I fell back to sleep then awoke to a clear sky and very little wind. Turns out the storm had turned inland instead of hanging out around the coast. I went out for a walk before the family was awake to check out the damage. We lost the top of a tree in the back yard. It landed in the neighbor’s yard chipping their siding and crushing a little red wagon but narrowly missing their glass patio table. The big trees in the front lost a few branches each but nothing huge. One birdhouse was tossed down but our house was just fine. I fired up the generator and headed out to see what I could see. The leaf litter was fantastic. I’ve never seen leaves shredded so thoroughly and dispersed so efficiently! Tree tops were equally shredded and a big one was partially blocking the road at the top of the street. I helped a neighbor drag it out of the way so he could get his van through. The seawall was still there but the walkway was torn up and tossed aside. The trees that had grown up alongside the walk were nowhere to be seen and the telephone pole with the fake cameras on it was also M.I.A. When I reached lower ground – the actual beach – I was floored by the damage. There was no beach – it was all bay complete with waves and undertow. Ignoring the cold I waded across a stream that used to be the road to get some pictures. It was at this time that the rainbow appeared to the west. I snapped the picture below while standing in knee deep water next to a downed utility pole with wires and transformers laying all around. A water dept pump house had been smashed open by the storm surge and I could smell a natural gas leak. I phoned that in to the New Jersey Natural Gas hotline and headed for home.
That day was spent without knowing anything about what was going on outside our own little section of town. No cell service. No radio stations. No anything. We did however have hot water thanks to the old-school completely mechanical water heater. We also had heat thanks to the even older-school natural gas heater in the basement. Its ambient heat – and the floor register in the bedroom – kept the house near 70° throughout the outage. Wednesday brought back the radio stations and we learned that it was this bad or worse all over New Jersey. Two dozen people were missing in neighboring Union Beach. Laurence Harbor and Keyport had been equally crushed. JCP&L – the Electric Company – was saying 7-10 days without power. I figured I had less than a week’s worth of fuel for the generator but offered to charge all of our neighbor’s phones and proffered up our shower to those without warm water. They didn’t take us up on the offers but did bring over whatever propane they had laying around once they got done grilling everything in their freezers as food started to thaw. We had rarely hung out with the neighbors before this week but actually got to know a few more of them during the blackout. We actually sat around playing games by lantern light one night. Another evening we had a Victorian era sing-along…. with some Raffi thrown in for Allison’s sake.
Going stir-crazy I went for a bike ride and toured the horrific state of downtown Keyport. Until this time I just thought we had wind and high water. I didn’t realize the force with which it had come in. Every building at or near sea-level was gutted or utterly crushed by the storm. Fortunately nobody lived that low and only restaurants and a museum were demolished. By now you’ve seen pictures of much bigger devastation than what I saw that day so I’ll just link to the pictures rather than include them here. Throughout the week I occasionally checked in with co-workers and with the hotline to see if the office was open. I heard on Thursday that some people were inside holding down the fort but non-essential employees didn’t need to come in. I took this to mean they had POWER and went in. No power. Just generators. I was able to help out though by going on a mad shopping spree for extension cords to power the parts of the building that were still dark. Getting around wasn’t too bad down that way but up by us most of the roads were blockaded because the traffic lights were down and/or out. On Friday I went in to the office again to find the power was actually on now. I did a little work then got lost in the pictures and news reports where I saw for the first time the havoc that the storm caused. Unreal! Back at home we had gotten into a groove with the running of the generator every few hours to keep the fridge cool, run the sump-pumps and circulate the hot air in the basement. Halloween’s rescheduled date came and went and nobody much cared. After a week I finally stopped trying to hit the light switches!
Then the N’oreaster hit. The snow-storm was just rain and slush up by us but dumped nearly a foot of snow on the office. I left early that day to get home before the roads got too bad. Being perpetually cold was really starting to take it’s toll on people and the electric company was still saying “7-10 days”. It turns out we’re on the main grid powered by South Amboy which chose to build its main substations just outside a tidal marsh. Good idea! Once that was rebuilt it would only be a few days more while the bulldozers cleared the road pictured above so the poles could be replaced. After nearly 10 days in the dark our home town held a Town Hall Meeting with the mayor, chief of police and a bunch of silent nodding heads that were presumably some kind of board members in the town. Very few people in my area “lost everything”. Most were just without electric. Being hungry is bad. Being scared is worse. Being cold is even worse still and everyone in that room that evening looked like they had forced to take cold showers – or more common, none at all – for at least a week now. I hung around for an hour until people started getting very animated berating the mayor and police chief. I heard later that the mayor ended up breaking down and admitting that he was powerless and that his is just a part-time job. I almost felt bad for him.
After 11 days, 2 hours and 20 minutes the power was suddenly restored. It was a crew from West Virginia that actually got in to do the work on our neighborhood. It came on while I was driving home from the office. It was nice to hear … nothing… in the night again after nearly a fortnight of generator noise all around. So, we survived Superstorm Sandy and its chilling aftermath. I learned that I could go long periods without power. I learned that I have neighbors that are people. I learned that a crisis brings out the best (heroism) and worst (looting) in people. Most of all I had real gratitude in my heart when Thanksgiving rolled around. I also had very little love for JCP&L. . .
A Song for the Electric Company:
At first I was afraid. I was petrified.
Kept thinkin’ I could never live without my house electrified.
But then I spent so many nights thinkin’ how you did me wrong,
And I grew strong.
And I learned how to get along.
So now your back! From outer space!
I just walked in to find lights on all over the place.
But now I’ve got a solar charging dock.
And I can charge my phone for free.
My generator is gassed up and you’re powerless to bother me!Go on now go! Don’t want no more!
You keep your poles now.
Cause you’re not welcome anymore.
Every estimate you gave turned out to be a lie.
Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh no, not I!
I will survive!
As long as I have my carbon monoxide tester I know I’ll stay alive.
I can’t watch “One Life To Live”
But I’m not about to give
and I’ll survive.
I will survive!
God willing, we’ll never have another storm like that one in my lifetime… but if we do I’m ready. Ready to move to somewhere further from the ocean that is!