I'm a snowbird and during the summer and fall I live in central New Jersey. As all of you know, a major natural disaster struck my second state recently in the form of Hurricane Sandy.
The aftermath of Sandy left death and destruction in its wake. As a long time primary resident of Florida, I never thought I would live long enough to see New Jersey and surrounding states outdo Florida in the hurricane ratings war.
We're used to hurricanes in Florida and in Sanibel we have thorough and well thought through provisions to minimize their impact. The same can't be said for the Northeast. Who woulda thought?
My wife and I were huddled in our home on Monday night, October 29th. The forewarnings were dire. We were told to hunker down and prepare for winds up to ninety miles an hour. The winds started during the early evening and began building in intensity. Every time my wife and I thought that the winds couldn't get stronger, they did.
We watched trees swaying beyond their endurance point and witnessed a number of them toppling. Fortunately, none of the big trees were close enough to our house to do any damage. We saw branches snap off trees and proceed down our street at breakneck speed. We saw sides of houses being ripped off and fly through the air like Frisbees. The sky lit up a number of times and we thought it was lightning. Later we learned that it was transformers and power stations blowing up.
And at around 9 p.m. we lost power and phone service. Can you imagine a more unnerving sequence of events? A pitch black house, winds howling, debris flying by incessantly and no end in sight?
My wife and I tried to close our eyes to what was happening around us and went to bed immediately hoping that sleep would come quickly. It didn't. The winds howled for hours and we braced ourselves for unanticipated dangers. It took a long time for the winds to subside and by morning there was an eerie silence throughout.
Trees and debris lined our street. Our power was still out and would be for almost a week. But, miraculously, our house wasn't damaged. We turned on our portable radio and began to learn about the vast destruction, chaos and loss of lives throughout the tri-state area.
As I see it, Hurricane Sandy rivaled 9/11 for outright destruction. True, the death toll was far greater during 9/11 than for Sandy, but when you consider the property damage that affects hundreds of thousands of people, the toll in human despair may be higher.
During the first week after the hurricane struck human emotions in the region ranged from disbelief to denial to despair to anger. During the first week the roads were useless, mass transportation was out, and gasoline was rationed. All are in various stages of repair and reconstruction but the many thousands of homes that were destroyed and the homelessness that resulted will take years to achieve a reasonable "normal".
But as usual, tragedy brings people together. Almost everyone I know is helping out in one way or another. Whether it's in the form of outright contributions or being on the scene directly we all feel a sense of community. I consider myself lucky but others weren't nearly as lucky.
No one ever thought that a hurricane of this magnitude would hit us. We were forewarned and knew that it was coming. But we were powerless to do anything about it except for mandatory evacuations. This step may have saved more lives but it didn't deter the destruction and tragedy that followed.
What can we learn from this tragedy? I guess it's that we can't take the good times for granted. Mother Nature continues to make us aware that she has ample surprises up her sleeve: tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, blizzards and many more. We are often on tenuous ground literally, and all we can do is try to prepare as best we can.
Yes, my wife and I were a lot luckier than the young mother whose two small children were whisked away by a surge during the hurricane and whose lifeless bodies were found the next day. Or the elderly couple who drowned in their house even though they were huddling together on the top floor.
But we move on. We take a deep breath, dust ourselves off and start all over again.