Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.
(652-Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Hymnal 1982)
Well, we didn’t get the earthquake.
It has been an interesting week in Staten Island, New York.
With hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Northeast, last Saturday my Beloved and I picked up our new puppy, who will be trained to take over for his aging service dog, and a friend and I drove to our favorite shopping place, nearby in Bayonne, New Jersey, to stores that may no longer be there. It was already overcast, with multiple layers of clouds flying by in sometimes different directions.
Sunday clouds continued to build, as did wind, and there were scattered showers. We made sure elderly twins in our building had food, visited an elderly friend in assisted living, battened down the hatches, taped the windows, and settled in to the background howl of the wind. I baked a batch of butterscotch blondies, half with chocolate chips, while we still had power, which we were sure we would lose before it was over.
There wasn’t as much rain as hurricane Irene last year – which meant our bedroom window frame didn’t leak as much and we didn’t have ponding in our bedroom. But the wind was worse, not just howling but literally shaking our six-story brick apartment building. It had reached Irene levels with the storm still 500 miles away, which was unsettling, to say the least.
Monday, we watched on CNN and the Weather Channel as the storm moved closer – and fielded a phone call from my best friend, now in Houston, announcing: “You guys are screwed. Jim Cantore [Weather Channel] is in Battery Park. If Jim Cantore is where you are, you’re screwed.” – which at least made us laugh. I began to seriously wonder if our windows would hold [spoiler alert: they did].
My Beloved chose his times to walk the dogs, trying for brief lulls between bands. Monday evening, with many lights already out in our neighborhood, I went with him to help. The cats and adult dog had been uneasy in the storm but the puppy, even out in the darkened street, was cheerfully oblivious, trying to jump on top of the older dog, trotting along, chasing blowing leaves, his ears flying in the wind. An 11-week old puppy can lighten the heart through anything.
Back home, watching the green fire that periodically lit the sky like the aurora borealis as transformers blew all around us, keeping touch with friends and family with texts and e-mails, we began to hope we might, after all, not lose power. Then the lights blinked on and off twice, and went out.
For the next three days, solar and battery-powered flashlights and radios gave light and information, and a phone charger let us have minimal outside contact.
Tuesday dawned windy, but with the worst over, and we walked the dogs along what was left of the waterfront – at least until the cops chased us. What we saw was devastation. Living on a hill (most folks don’t realize Staten Island has the highest natural point between Maine and Florida), we had never been afraid of flooding, but flooding was what had done the worst damage on the shore. Heavy wooden benches with hurricane strapping had been tossed, large old trees uprooted from saturated earth, seawall vanished.
We ran into two ladies from a waterfront development who had not heeded the evacuation order, heading for the local precinct to ask for police protection and clearing of the roads down to them, which were blocked. They told us floating beams had smashed through the windows of first floor apartments, demolishing them. Walking over there, we saw concrete ripped off the exterior of at least one building, rebar exposed. The walkway along the water was gone or sunken in spots, so no one dared to use it.
When we got home, a neighbor who is also a dear friend knocked on our door for help with his roommate’s medical emergency, his own cell phone being dead. We called 911, and my Beloved, a former EMT, struggled up three flights of stairs with his crutch to offer assistance while I ran down to meet the ambulance and guide them up the six flights to the apartment. After the medical folks took the patient to hospital, I followed with our elderly friend in my car, driving around fallen trees and downed power lines, and cautiously edging past intersections with darkened traffic lights. We were glad that the hospital, in a flood and evacuation zone, was powered and operating. (The patient, in the early stages of a stroke, is now fine and back home.) Later, taking a different route home, we saw flotsam and jetsam left when the water had covered the main street, which is a bit more than a block from the water.
A nearby friend never lost power, so I spent my days at her place, charging the charger, phones, and laptop, walking home and up the stairs by flashlight. Evenings, we ate catch-as-can, candlelight dinners from the slowly warming fridge with our neighbor. Power came back Thursday evening, announced as I “charged” at my friend’s, by the caller ID on my phone lighting up with my home phone number, and I greeted my Beloved with a joyful “It’s back!”
For us, it was challenging and sometimes dangerous, but not, in the end, much more than an inconvenience and some degree of financial hardship. For the shore communities of Staten Island and New Jersey, it was, for many, if not the end of the world, the end of theirs, in some cases literally, in others it might as well have been. No one I know died, but my auto mechanic’s girlfriend lost her home and everything in it – still leaving her better off than the three people on her block who died (all of whom would be alive if they had heeded the evacuation order).
I think even those of us who got off easy will be a long time processing what happened. I have no answers (except maybe, if the government tells you to evacuate, you evacuate). But I listen for the stillness at the heart of the storm, and look for what I can do to help.
Because I had difficulty uploading them, some of these photos are out of order. (The dog pictures are because I couldn’t resist.)