OP/ED: Hurricane Irene In My Neck Of The Woods
For days the tension was palpable, there was a storm brewing, literally, and its projected path was through the small town where I live in peace and quiet with my little family. As neighbors rushed to prepare for Hurricane Irene in the late summer days of 2011 by boarding up windows, testing generators, stocking up on batteries, and divesting the grocery shelves of bread and water, I was in a surreal haze. What was I supposed to be doing?
Yet, really what could I do to prevent a hurricane from destroying my humble little abode? It was unthinkable here in New York. This sort of thing happens down South where it's sunny and warm all year long. What would it matter if I had a fridge and pantry stocked with provisions if the power went out? It would all go bad and I would have wasted a few hundred dollars. Armed with little more than my cell phone, a flashlight, my daughter's Barbie radio, a first aid kit, and enough food for two days or so we hunkered down in the darkness and went to sleep as the rains came.
Throughout the night the wind howled and rain came down in sideways sheets. A foolish few on the roads struggled to reach safety. Trees bent to the ground and those not pliable enough snapped under the intense pressure. When dawn broke, Hurricane Irene was fully realized and tearing her way across Long Island downing trees and ripping her way through power lines leaving over a half a million people without electricity.
The ocean met the bay Sunday morning and TV weathermen earned their keep broadcasting live while screaming into microphones as intrepid cameramen fought against the power of Mother Nature to stay focused. Nary was a shot missed. For those of us in the storm's path these scenes were reviewed in clips days later as we picked up the pieces of roofs torn from the rafters and cleared yards covered in debris.
I spent the day nervously watching the blistering attacks from the comfort of my living room equally splitting time calming the fears and then managing the challenging attitudes of my two young daughters. They had cabin fever and they were scared, a lethal combination as any parent can attest.
The calm after a storm is a fragile place. Much like the Munchkins from the Land of Oz, one by one residents of my little town emerged to assess the damage. Phones were down, electricity was out, and cell service was spotty at best. The intense quiet was replaced by the droning hum of generators that would continue unabated for days.
Much like tourists in an unfamiliar place, my little family bundled into the car and drove through the streets pointing at downed trees, oohing at overturned boats, and ahhing at flooded roads. We clustered with neighbors and shared a meal as children played and adults worried over the outages and about those still in the middle of the storm further north. The back bands of wind and rain reminded me that we weren't completely out of the woods yet. Armed with flashlights we re-entered our home for the night.
The normal Monday morning alarm did not ring, cartoons did not invade the morning, coffee was not brewing. The sun however was shining, the soft breeze a welcome companion. The drone and hum of generators remained throughout the day joined by the growling buzz of chainsaws. Clean up efforts began; life would go on as normal with just one misstep in the grand scheme of things. Neighbors helped neighbors.
By Tuesday, as is the want of a typical New Yorker, the complaints began. Complaints about the lack of power, the lack of warm showers, the lack of the internet, and the lack of cable TV to keep the kids occupied and adults informed. Strong personalities emerged but cooler heads prevailed as the lights went back on one by one. Refrigerators and freezers were restocked. Yards were cleared. Coffee was once again brewing and alarm clocks were back on duty.
Hurricanes, tsunamis, massive earthquakes, tornadoes, and wild animal attacks are not part of my daily life here on the Eastern End of Long Island, New York. There are no droughts or famine, no landslides nor volcanoes. Despite the best of efforts we have crime in New York, road rage in traffic, senseless crimes and the fear of terrorism. We have political corruption and in the Hamptons we have outrageous parties all summer long.
Compared to other areas across the globe the brief visit by Hurricane Irene to my tiny piece of Long Island was the equivalent of a splinter. Tiny in size, little pain, and no real damage after a day or so. But for me, it was a few fearsome hours that I'll never forget.