Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tales from Sandy, Gratitude


It’s Thanksgiving and I’m grateful for, among other things, that Hawaii wasn’t hit by a tsunami. A friend in New Jersey survived Sandy and had no power for two weeks. Her cell phone wasn’t working at all during that time, and many cell phone towers were damaged. I got a chance to catch up with her and we had a long phone call.

As the story spilled out of her, I wondered how well Hawaii would fare in a similar situation. Yet I know people who managed for months without power after Hurricane Iniki pounded the island of Kauai. I remember some people saying it was a rough time and they were glad it was over. But another woman said it was a beautiful time, when everyone was helping each other. So there are different ways to respond to a crisis – “surviving it” as an ordeal or giving and receiving help.

As my friend told her story, both themes emerged.

The bad parts:
So much looting in the neighborhood where she lived. Alarm systems didn’t work. Someone stole 27 imacs from a school. They were lucky and had a generator which they had bought after the last bad storm (no power for a week), but it required leaving one window open, so someone always had to be at the house. No hot water, so no hot showers. 

Day after the storm, almost all the stores were closed since there was no power. Home Depot was closed, but Lowe’s, running on a generator, was the only store open in the county. All the extension cords were gone immediately. The parking lot was full. Anyone who came out with a generator – it was like winning a lottery. Later, the stores would open and the shelves were emptied out. Stores were sold out of gas cans.

Crossing intersections was like going through the Wild West. Cars would be at each corner and no system for who to go first– She would inch out slowly and be ready to slam on the brakes. There were so many intersections to cross to get to a gas station. The scariest crossing was over railroads. No way to know if the train was coming, so needed to go look and then floor the gas. Night driving – it was pitch black with no lights. (Remember the sun goes down a lot earlier over there, like 4 pm).

Gas stations – people brought guns with them, because there were fights over who was first. Long lines. Drove 80 miles round trip the first day looking for gas. Lines were miles long. Kept driving further thinking the lines would be shorter. Waited four hours for gas, and then the station ran out.  Came home without gas. Next day, waited one hour for gas. Luckily, rationing started – based on license plate numbers.

Day before the storm, tried to mail letters, but the postal box was saran wrapped so tightly no one could get to it. Bars were down on the cashier’s window. After the storm, some post offices were condemned. Other post offices opened, and had large bins of mail for people from other towns.

Buildings that were condemned had red X’s on the door. The whole side of the strip along the ocean was condemned and flattened.

The good parts:
They received flyers on the door with information of where to do the laundry, where to get cash from a mobile ATM. Volunteers copied flyers and distributed them.

FEMA people passed out MRE’s. Many out of state crews worked on power lines. Though they were paid, they had miserable conditions, living in tents, eating cold MRE’s, with bitterly cold nights. She’s very grateful for all the emergency workers. There was a crew from Canada and several states. With federal help, California had the funds to airlift 45 utility trucks.  Different states sent out trucks and workers with their specialty offerings. Alabama sent up a barbeque food truck to deliver barbeque meals to everyone in a town nearby, 30 miles away which was 2 hours of driving time.

Friends helped chain saw damaged trees in her yard, even though they had their own damage to take care of. Volunteers would arrive to help out, then go to other towns. They bought a contamination suit for volunteers to go up to an area contaminated by raw sewage.  Another friend gave her a gas can of gas and did not want any money. Gas was like gold. It ran the generators, which took 7 gallons of gas/day (if I heard correctly).  Also, his house was damaged so severely, he didn’t try to salvage anything and instead volunteered at other sites.

I’ve been to New Jersey and “down the shore” many times. I have a feeling I'm going to return back to this post and edit it again, but just wanted to share how lucky we are, really, and how we take things for granted, things as basic as hot water and electricity. Happy Thanksgiving. Let's count our blessings. 

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