PART I – IT’S GOING TO BE A WILD RIDE!
We’re all tense and already nervously picking at each as we await the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, aka “Frankenstorm.” The anticipation and fear of the unknown is making us all crazy. We’ve made all the preparations and are safely stowed away at my daughter’s home in North Jersey. The ocean is only a mile and a half away, but we feel safe in this sturdy house surrounded by other homes and big, sturdy trees. At least we’re not directly on the water as we are in the house where we live. There are five of us here from three different households, along with three dogs and seven cats. To say the animals are skittish and out of sorts in their unfamiliar surroundings is a major understatement.
We’ve had our last “hot” meal as I’ve called it. We sense that the power will be going out soon, so we try to relax, but it’s impossible to do so. Night is falling and the winds are kicking up. The rain starts to sprinkle lightly at first, and then all at once it comes in torrential downpours. We try to get the dogs outside to do their business one more time, but even they are afraid to step out into this storm. All of a sudden the lights flicker and everything goes black. We are in darkness now. We grab flashlights and light candles and decide to play a card game – 500 rummy. We peer out into the darkness as the storm comes heavily upon us. In the distance there is what we are calling “blue lightening.” When it flashes, the sky is a brilliant blue and you can see shadows of trees bent and bowed in the storm. It’s the only time you can see anything. I’m scared. I’m praying. I’m hoping everyone stays safe. We drink wine as we play the card game and try to joke around, but our laughter is the nervous kind. We finally turn to bed when we can’t stay awake any longer.
I am alone in a downstairs room with my three cats. My dog Bella is staying in my daughter’s room with her dog Lulu because when they are together they are inseparable buddies. And the cats are so upset that adding Bella to the mix would just make them worse. Two of my cats immediately jump on the bed with me and huddle on either side, sandwiching me for protection while the third peers curiously out the sliding glass window. She is intrigued by the storm. The heat, of course, has gone out in the blackout, and it’s very cold in the room. I huddle under the covers. Although it is not visible high above the storm clouds, the full moon is adding some light to the outside atmosphere. It’s going to be a long night. I toss and turn as the wind howls and the driving rain smashes against the windows. Bushes blow and make eerie rubbing sounds on the glass of the window. I worry that the huge tree in the backyard is going to fall right on the part of the house in which I’m sleeping. Will this night never end?!?
I pray, I plead and I beg. Keep us safe, dear Lord, my God. Please keep us free from harm and deliver us from this horrendous storm. My stress barometer is off the charts. Somehow I drift off into a deep sleep, but I am awakened again and again by the howling wind and the loud hammering of the rainfall. I drift off again for the hundredth time, but the next time I awake everything is silent. At some point in the wee small hours of the morning, the storm has moved away. There is no wind, just a slow, even rainfall. It’s gone. It has passed. Frankenstorm has left the area. I am so surprised by the quietness and the fact that it is actually over. I praise God for His goodness and protection. I am so grateful we have all made it through the night. We’re all right!
PART II – STILL STANDING
Outside we go to survey the damage. Five 6 x 8 fence sections have been pulled from their posts and are strewn around on the ground. We chase the dogs away from the openings so they won’t run away. There are tree limbs peppering the backyard. The neighbor next door had a tree split and fall on their front porch roof and with it took down a power line. We walk the neighborhood, which is littered with debris and tree limbs. Some huge trees have become uprooted. We are beginning to understand the magnitude of the storm. There are wires down in places, and we decide it really is not safe to be walking through this mess. I hear humming, like a lawn mower here and there and wonder gullibly why people would be cutting their grass. I realize they are using generators, the sound of which I’ve never heard before. As the days pass and more and more are put into use, the humming sound heightens to an almost deafening pitch. Neighbors are out cleaning up debris – chopping fallen trees, raking mounds of leaves and sharing stories with one another.
We’ve gotten the word that we’re not yet allowed back into our neighborhood, so we wait. Days pass. I just want to go home. My pets want to go home. It frightens us as we wonder what is happening where we live and why we can’t go back and what shape our house is in. The days pass and we’re bored and cold and trying to get along as tempers flare with fear of the unknown. The pets are the only ones who seem to be adjusting. We turn on the gas burners for heat until we realize we could die from carbon monoxide poisoning. So we throw on another sweater or sweatshirt and wait. It’s very cold – in the 30’s at night. We have makeshift meals; we play 500 rummy; we drink wine and try to forget about what is actually happening.
Phone calls to our neighbors also evacuated to other places are shared. My daughter in Florida is keeping us updated as to what has happened in our own backyard since without the internet or TV; we are living in a world that only we exist in. Megan finds a picture of a bridge that you have to cross to get to our house. It is closed, and police are blocking people from crossing. We are worried.
The next day my daughter’s friend, who lives close by our house, somehow gets to it and takes a picture. It’s still standing! The sky in the picture is a brilliant blue, and the house seems to be smiling back at us. We’re not sure what awaits us inside the house, but at first glance, the outside seems untouched.
We get word later in the day that we can go back, but it’s too late to travel now, especially with power outages across the board. In the morning we pack, put our now traumatized cats back into their crates, grab the dog and head south with anxious but hopeful hearts.
PART III – ANOTHER GREAT SURVIVAL
The Sunday before the hurricane hit, our priest tried to sooth us in his homily at Mass. I don’t remember much about what he said that day for my mind wandered in a hundred different directions – none of them good. His closing, statement, however, stuck with me and helped me through the entire event. He said: I pray everyone will be safe and that this will be another great survival story that we will tell.
We drive home through a sea of debris. Getting out of North Jersey with no power – street lights, detours, heavy traffic and road blocks is no easy task. Every gas station has lines a mile long. Some stations even have lines of people with gas cans. Once we get on the Garden State Parkway, we sail home. We are apprehensive when we pull in our driveway. We can see that the seaweed-marked water line came four feet from the house. My dog jumps out of the car and is wild with the smells of the sea on the ground and sniffs crazily. We walk into the house and take a look around. It is very cold and dark. Miraculously, by the grace of God, there is no water in the house other than drenched towels we stuffed around the entrance of the sliding glass doors in the back.
The first thing I do is fall to my knees because the fact that we were spared is a gift from almighty God. I pray for those who face devastation, which is all around us. Just three blocks down the street to the bay resembles a war zone. Huge trees are uprooted. Debris is strewn like confetti. Piles of wood lay along the roadside. The vegetation in the wetlands to the right where I take Bella for her daily walks is uprooted, flattened in places and bent. Some spots are bare. The houses on the bay, of course, are in the worse shape. That part of the street is blocked. There are front-end loaders hauling sand – construction vehicles run amuck up and down the road. Transformers are destroyed. The loud hum of generators is deafening. You can clearly see the bay, where before the plant life formed a barrier. I look out across the brownish water, which is usually a pale blue, looking for the marker I search for each morning during our walk. There I see it – The Barnegat Lighthouse, which sits at the north end of Long Beach Island. It is still standing. Like a beacon of hope and strength and survival.
Down the street in the other direction a whole neighborhood is devastated. I hear that houses were uplifted and are not even close to where they used to be. I hear a house was floating in the bay. No one is allowed in the area without proof of residence. T here is one fatality in this corner of the neighborhood. – an elderly woman who ignored the mandatory evacuation, stayed with her house and drowned. God rest her soul. Sadness shrouds us like a cloud.
I won’t take pictures of this destruction. Pictures can’t begin to show you the devastation of this quiet little fishing town on the coast of New Jersey. Pictures can’t explain the emptiness in the pit of your stomach that makes you wretch. Pictures can’t show you the broken hearts, the stress and anxiety, the loss of so many, the unstoppable stream of tears.
But then there is the other side of the coin. The man in the white truck who rides around the neighborhood to see if you’re OK and tells you they are serving hot coffee, hot dogs and hamburgers at the little league field around the corner. It’s the cavalcade of 20 power company trucks from the state of Alabama making their way up Route 9 to help get power back to us. It’s the churches taking in the homeless and providing hot food and clothing and a place to unload their frustrations. It’s the groups of volunteers going house to house in the flood zones to rip up the wet carpeting and throw out the drenched furniture. It’s the neighbor who gives you a line to his generator so you can have a light and can save what’s left in your refrigerator. It’s the other neighbor who is keeping watch on everyone’s house on the street because of the two recent burglaries. The outpouring of kindness of people who want to help and give is overwhelming. People are good – and sometimes it takes something like this to realize just how much.
Yes, personally, we were fortunate to have minimal damage around the house. I write this on our ninth day without power or heat, which is a minor hiccup in comparison to the devastation that surrounds me. I go to bed each night with three blankets, a comforter and my 90 lb. Labrador retriever Bella pressed up against my legs for warmth. Some people don’t have their bed or a roof over their head or a blanket or their pet. I fall asleep thanking God for His goodness and His strength and the hope I feel that we will all be well. I do what I can with what I have where I can.
I read a quote the other day:
Life is not about what we have and who we know
but who we have and what we know.
We here in New Jersey we have each other, and we help each other out. We also have all you good folks from other parts of the country sending your generous supplies and coming to our aid to get us back up and running. The best is coming out of everyone from everywhere. People are good.
We know that we are tough and strong. We will rebuild, we will survive and we will live to tell about another great survival.