Two Years Later, Remembering Hurricane Sandy

Two years ago yesterday, the power came back on.

Initially, my family didn’t know what to make of Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey, like most of the Northeast, is not very prone to extreme weather. Granted, we do have the occasional hurricane and freak earthquake, but nothing on a regular basis. We had survived Hurricane Irene the year before relatively untouched; it was more or less a bad rainstorm for us that more or less destroyed the resort down South in which we had planned on spending vacation that week.

That’s not to say we didn’t prepare for Sandy; like most families in the area, we stocked up on nonperishable food and unearthed our emergency supply of flashlights, camping lanterns, batteries and candles. But then we waited.

Family dinner on October 29th was relatively quiet inside as we ate leftovers in anticipation of our refrigerator being out of commission for the next who-knows-how-long. There were a few flickerings of the lights and some quick brownouts, which we partially expected given the howling winds and heavy rains outside.

My Twitter feed soon began showing tweets of friends in my township who had lost power. Since the power lines in my development are underground, we don’t usually lose power, so my family wasn’t too concerned. After dinner, I went back upstairs to my bedroom to continue working on my college applications that were due within the coming days. Nothing too much out of the ordinary.

Then suddenly, the power went out. Ok, it’ll come back soon, it’s just another brownout, we never lose power, etc. But when it didn’t come back quickly on we all decided just to go to bed and deal with it in the morning. Luckily my school district had already cancelled school the next day because my sister and I weren’t exactly planning on going anyway.

The next morning we woke up with no power, and no electricity means no refrigerator, no television, no Internet, and no home phone. But luckily, it meant we could still use our gas stove (so archaic #1995!), take hot showers (yay discovery that we have a gas powered hot water heater!) and listen to the radios we hadn’t used in about ten years since installing an under-the-counter television in the kitchen. Since our local Wawa was giving out free ice to the community, my parents went out to get some ice and quickly put a good amount of the food in our fridge and freezer into coolers.

But without electricity, there didn’t seem like much to do: we had all become so dependent on technology, that, without Internet, we became very bored very quickly. Our cell phones, which were only used to check in with our other family members who were more severely impacted by the storm, were otherwise sparingly used in an effort to conserve their batteries, and our laptops became iPhone charging stations, since, without internet, they were basically useless. We ended up playing board games for much of the day.

October 30th was actually a rather nice day outside; except for our very soggy lawn and the one tree that luckily fell down next to our house instead of on it, we didn’t have to worry about too much damage or cleaning up. But in other very nearby places, people didn’t fare so well: Twitter and the radio were abundant with news stories about deaths, floods, damage, and road closures. Our petty problem of having no electricity, while a struggle for a suburban family who hadn’t experienced much struggle before, was clearly in hindsight a very miniscule outcome to a severe storm that hit a region largely unfamiliar with the effects of inclement weather.

Determined not to let the aftermath of this storm delay the submission of my college applications, I continued to work on my essays with paper and pen instead of with keyboard and computer. Luckily, my friend across town still had electricity and invited me over the next night for an oven-cooked dinner and free Internet (that night was the second year in a row that Governor Christie cancelled Halloween). After putting the final touches on my essays in her heated family room that had ceiling lights which actually worked, and submitting applications to three colleges that I now do not attend, I headed home that night, in awe of the effects of a power outage on suburbia. Black silhouettes of houses, strip malls, and trees were outlined in the dusk sky, and with no illumination from any building. There was no life or movement anywhere besides me driving on the once busy, now barren roads connecting both sides of my hometown. It was as if all life was sucked out of suburbia, leaving it to rot as if according to a supernatural plan.

At home, a lack of technology meant that we actually had to communicate with each other, which was driving us all crazy. With school closed for the foreseeable future and many roads and stores closed, there wasn’t much to do during the day, and the never-ending boredom forced us to interact with each other more so than usual. Complaints of “why can’t the township pick up those damn power lines already??” abounded; my sister and I actually wanted to return to school. Luckily, I still had swim practice during the week that we had off from school because of Sandy, which turned out to be a godsend. Princeton University’s pool had heating (yay warmth!) and electricity (yay power!), so I wasn’t the only one who brought multiple laptops and iPads to the pool to charge while I was swimming; good thing then that someone was smart enough to bring surge protectors so that the outlets could accommodate multiple devices charging.

Fast forward a week and the rumor in my development was that the power was slowly returning. My dad had hooked up our entire house to a generator that he was able to get in Pennsylvania the day before, but by the time our neighbors, and presumably us as well, had gotten our power back, my dad had already left for a business trip, and my mom, sister, and I were clueless as to how to undo what he did so that we could return to civilization (we really missed our Internet). When a neighbor offered to help, and eventually resolve our problem, we were delighted that our period of stove-cooked, paper-plate, candle-lit meals was finally over.

Two years later, the New York/New Jersey region is still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Just last month, we finally replaced the tree that had fallen in front of our house. But we were some of the lucky ones whose lives were not drastically changed by Sandy. I recall participating in an ocean mile swim on Long Beach Island a year after Sandy, and there were still piles of rubble and debris from destroyed houses in the beach communities from Sandy a year prior. There are still homes on Long Island and along the coast that are uninhabitable because of Sandy, and many people are still displaced and mourning the deaths of loved ones. Despite the destruction, Sandy’s ruthlessness transformed the politics, geography, infrastructure and tenacity of the region, which has emerged stronger and better prepared if another superstorm were to hit.

So it turns out that each college I had applied to on that fateful October evening extended their deadlines a week or two to accommodate for Hurricane Sandy; I found this out after submitting my applications and after we got our power back. Oh well. But would the more time to work on my college applications have differed the status of some of them? I don’t know; I’m happy at Amherst. I just hope that another freak superstorm like Sandy doesn’t hit Amherst while I’m here.