Hurricane Sandy: Six Days in Lakewood, New Jersey

This is why they are blocking the intersections…. this was a nasty accident involving a pickup and a BMW causing more road blocks.

I’m a Jersey girl and a very proud aunt to RI Future’s editor. So when Bob gave me a challenge to write an exclusive about what its been like this last week at the Jersey Shore, I guess I couldn’t resist.

Now, let’s see, what can you say when you are in the middle of a disaster except that you are filled with a variety of emotions.

Sunday

It starts with anxiety and preparations. My family and I have been through these situations before and you begin to know the drill. Get batteries, flashlights, water, and the essential non-perishable food items. You are busy and try to be organized (a skill my husband wishes I wasn’t so good at). And all along, you are checking every weather source possible—just in case they made a mistake.

Then, you begin the wait. We (my husband and I) spent the time cooking: soup, bread, cake, and making sure the coffee and water supply was stocked. This was when the memories started for me… other storms, filled with destruction and heart-break:

Hurricane Belle in ’76, when my Mom and I sat wrapped in plastic tablecloths on the porch of our four room garage apartment just blocks from the beach for the hours it took for the storm to pass. The next day was the first time I had ever see that kind of destruction… as the beautiful boardwalk was ripped and thrown aside.

Then, the names Floyd and Gloria, Irene and Dennis and Andrew come back to me. I pause to remember Andrew as my step-children lived through the trauma of having their house blown up around them when they lived in Florida.

As we listened to the weather descriptions and ominous precautions, we reminded ourselves that we’ve been through this before, we’ll be alright, there is a price to pay to live close to the beautiful Atlantic Ocean along the Jersey Shore.

Monday

And then, Sandy approaches… mild at first, and, so we think, maybe they are wrong (although we are watching the TV and they are telling us that there is more to come).

It is nice to have technology through this. We send text messages to kids and other family… everyone is OK—safe. :) all around.

We are informed by the TV that the eye is nearing and we find out that this massive storm is landing around 15 miles south of our inland community. (This is the first time that I acknowledge the 900 mile scope.) We are grateful that we have power and our cable is hanging on. The ding of my phone lets me hear from co-workers and friends—one by one their power is out.

We notice that the winds that were coming from the NW are now blowing SE. The lights flicker several times and the cable goes out. The beach is SE of our house and I think of the storm surge. But a few more lights flicker and we are left in darkness, listening to 80 mph winds and gusts of more.

I think it was about 8:30 or 9 PM when the power went out. It is so loud, and we can see explosions in the distance.

When you hear your house creak and strain, when the wind is constant and loud, you look around and you wonder. But you tell yourself you are safe, and your partner says it’s true. You snuggle and you pray for everyone.

Tuesday

Along with the morning comes the realization that we really do count on those technological connections. What to do to get in touch, find out what’s happened, get from one place to another, and most importantly keep it running, charged, and connected without electricity.

We felt isolated and uninformed, at a time when there are so many questions about what’s happened. So, small bits of news become so important. And as we put together snippets of neighbor’s and friend’s stories, we begin to realize that our situation here in New Jersey is not going to be normal for a long time.

Thursday

It will be sometime before we can get anywhere near our beaches to see the destruction for ourselves. We are grateful, sad, overwhelmed and still unsure how to proceed but determined to take another walk on the boardwalk one day and watch the waves again.

My husband, my mother and I are together now waiting for power, gas and food supplies to be restored throughout our area. I am on a very unexpected vacation from work with no return date in site. We are in mourning for the families who have lost so much and we are grateful, so very grateful to those who are here to help. And, we are talking about how we will get to our polling places to vote next week.

Saturday

We live just a few miles from Lakehurst Air Force Base and I am used to hearing the cargo planes fly over head, often rather low, just above the trees from my perspective. Today, however, they are coming to work on “our first priority” here in NJ: restore power to as many “non-severely affected areas” as possible. (funny how terminology like those quoted all of a sudden make sense to you.) So, anyway, I hear another plane and give my usual thought of gratitude (with a much different understanding of their purpose, though).

My husband and I decided that we needed to make a supermarket run. We had heard that while the stores were in short supply or just throwing things away, they were making efforts to restock. We started out for only the second time in five days heading west. We actually had a discussion as to which direction to go since we were aware that traffic lights were still down, trees might be covering roads, traffic jams caused by long lines of cars waiting at gas stations with power to run the pumps were still possible, and police monitored barricades were still at most intersections.

Slowly, we made our way to a ShopRite. We were greeted by a hand-made sign, “We are OPEN.”

Very quickly, we knew that this shopping experience would be interesting. It was like the day before Thanksgiving—only worse. Crowded, empty bread and bakery shelves, very limited meat and poultry sections, the freezer section is corded off with nothing on the shelves, and the dairy is limited (and in my mind potentially questionable). We decide that vegetable soup has been good to us throughout all of this. We head to the produce isles and stick with it.

The store is filled with the seniors who live in our area. We can tell that they are disoriented and confused. They are looking for a way to return to normal routines, but we repeatedly hear, “We can’t buy that, we don’t have power to cook it.” At one point, there is a flicker in the lights, and it seems that everyone in this very crowded store pauses, looks up to the fixtures, and gives a sigh of relief. It was a brief second of interruption but it made me acutely aware that everyone is on edge. The lady next to me smiles looking embarrassed, and I tell her that we are all frazzled. She tells me to “Take care.” The statement of choice lately…

Later, I get a phone call from a friend. She and her husband live just a half-block from the flooded area in Toms River. She tells me that they were spared any damage and they are so grateful. But because they are close to the affected area, they are last on the list for restoration. Electricity for them might be a long way off.

She works for a non-profit that runs two half-way houses for teenagers at risk. She tells me that the kids are OK for now, but in less than ten days, she has a major fund-raiser going off. She is concerned and doesn’t know if her vendors will pull out, or if donation money will go elsewhere. She is concerned about their work program since the local tourist industry was their main source. We joke for just a minute that they need to put a training program in place for the construction industry. The joke falls away.

Then I get a text from my son’s girlfriend. She had been over on Thursday for a shower. She and her family live one town to the east of us. They are OK—safe. We had exchanged storm stories and she told me that she listened to her neighbor’s roof shingles flying off throughout the storm. She said that they are four houses away from homes with power—like a tease. Her text thanked me for the soup and coffee but she was heading out to Pa. She needed a break and a chance to be warm. I told her to drive carefully.

Another friend called. She and her husband live with her elderly Mother who needs constant medical attention. Yesterday was the first day that she had phone service since the storm. They have a small generator so she told me they are fine. She too is grateful that her family is safe. She did not say much more about their situation; she told me that she doesn’t want to complain in the face of so many others in distress.

My friend in Toms River sends a text. They made it home before the 7PM curfew and found out from their neighbor that Martial Law has been imposed in their area… we suppose it is to curtail the looting.

As I am writing this I think to myself that none of these people would want their stories told. We are the lucky ones who went through this storm unscathed. The real story is the 100 or so families who lost loved ones to Hurricane Sandy, or the thousands of families that incurred property damage or lost their property altogether.

So, I will end our Sandy story with some thoughts: I believe that global warming is real. We’re proud solar power users and hope that as NJ rebuilds, there are considerations for alternative energy solutions as a boost to our infrastructure. I am also proud to see that our Democratic president and Republican governor were able to work together and put recovery solutions in place quickly. It would be so wonderful for our nation, if we could start to find non-partisan solutions to many of the other problems in our country.

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