Friday, 2 November 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Thanks to all those who have been worried about us in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We finally have had power restored after four days in the cold and dark, with little mobile phone coverage (as the mobile companies were also affected).

I want to try to convey what happened, day by day, to let people know, as well as to record it for my own memory. First of all, some of you may have noticed I hadn't blogged for a while. I was having my own little disaster, even before the natural disaster struck. My knee pain turned into leg pain which was then diagnosed as sciatica. In severe pain, I went for an MRI on my back which revealed a bulging disc. No idea how this occurred, but it has knocked me for six. First of all I convinced myself I had an untreatable disease (this was before the MRI). Then I was still in pain, with not much to be done about it other than physio sessions. Even sitting at my desk to work was an ordeal, and I felt so depressed that blogging was out of the question.

And then the Hurricane came.

Sunday 28th October

We live about 100 yards from the water, although not the open ocean - more of a bay. But the coastal surge along Long Island Sound was predicted to be up to 14 feet, and our house is about 15 feet above sea level. It wasn't clear whether we were supposed to evacuate - we had one message saying anyone 15 feet or below should get out, another which named specific streets, of which we were not one. Friends offered us to stay at their house further inland - however, they live in a street with lots of big trees, and we didn't feel it would be much safer (in the event, they were OK but others on their street had cars and houses crushed).  In any case we felt that if the lower level of our house did flood, we wanted to be there to move things upstairs. However, this was a tough decision. Were we endangering our children by staying put? Should we have actually got on a plane while we still could, back to England or somewhere like Chicago? School was officially cancelled until further notice.

Monday 29th October

We stayed - having stocked up on candles, torches, food and drink.  Even in the morning, the wind was getting up and by high tide, at 12PM, the tide had completely covered the end of our road. It's a dead end street, so there was no way out, at least by car (we could have escaped on foot the other end). We moved our car further up the road. Everyone was going down and looking at the sea, even as the wind got up - people were actually in a dinghy along the main road. The pond behind us was also a worry - it had overflowed its banks and was creeping up towards the house behind ours. By 3PM the wind was wild. Several large tree branches fell in our garden, luckily not damaging our house. We were glued to the Weather Channel, nervously watching the predictions for high tide, which was predicted to be worse at midnight. Mobiles were still working, so from Facebook I saw that someone in town had already had their house destroyed by a tree. At 6.30 PM the power went out and we were in the dark - we had just cooked, so ate by candlelight, listening to a battery powered radio. The wind was so wild, we put the boys to bed downstairs on the sofa bed, rather than upstairs in their room where a tree could fall on the house. At the same time, The Doctor and I started to move belongings upstairs, in case of flooding. From what we could see outside in the dark, the water was already rushing up above normal tide. Then we sat, drank wine and tea, and waited for midnight and the high tide.

Tuesday 30th October

At midnight,we ventured out onto our balcony overlooking the sea. The wind had dropped a little. We could see the moonlit water lapping in the carpark of the village hall, next to our house. But, it was still 30 yards away. It hadn't come up. The Doctor went to the end of the road to check. It hadn't come up the street. We went to bed.
I was awoken at 5am by the sound of branches snapping. I looked outside, but all seemed OK. I'm still not sure what tree it was, but by morning it was clear that many nearby trees had fallen. The wind had dropped significantly, so The Doctor walked up into town to check out some friends and neighbours' houses - including our old house. This time it had not been struck by a tree but an enormous one lay across its garden. Our old neighbours had several huge trees down; some streets were like a war zone. We walked to the nearest supermarket just to see what was going on - it was struggling to open.
One of the most difficult things was the lack of communication. Mobile reception was virtually nil. We couldn't email our friends and family in England to say were OK. Couldn't log onto Facebook to see what was going on with friends in other parts of town. For this reason we ventured out in the car to the hospital where The Doctor works - we knew they would have backup power and the Internet.
Driving out of town revealed the full scale of the disaster - many, many trees on power lines. One of the three routes out of town completely blocked by a fallen tree. No shops or businesses open. What was really worrying was the lack of anything going on - no crews cutting the trees or repairing power lines, no police directing traffic on the broken roads (which were scarily without traffic lights). It was a kind of lawless wasteland out there.
 That night on the radio, we heard on the radio that 90% of Long Island was without power. Other horror stories poured in - a massive fire in Southern Queens that destroyed 100 houses. Fire Island virtually washed away. Towns on the South Shore that had no drinking water. Lower Manhattan under water. This was no small crisis but a full scale national disaster.

Wednesday 31st October - Halloween.
Luckily one of our neighbours has a gas powered boiler (ours is oil, but requires  electricity to power up). So we were able to take a hot shower there, and that is where we spent much of the next two days, congregating and chatting with various neighbours, and the kids playing together. It was weird - all the Dads were around, unable to get to work via train (as all trains to Manhattan were suspended). They kept venturing out in search of supplies, restless and caveman-like.
Communication was still poor, but some information was getting in - ironically the elderly couple in the street who still have an analog landline were best off of anyone. We heard that school would not be back until power was restored - and that it could be seven days or more until that was the case. Halloween was officially off - there was an email from the town telling people not to trick or treat in the dark, but we got together with friends and neighbours to trick or treat at 3PM along the street. So, the children got to wear their costumes and collect candy, even if the expedition was slightly surreal, with parents freaking out about fallen trees and downed power lines.
Meanwhile, the shops were still half shut - the local Stop and Shop was open for dried goods, but these were half running out. There was no fresh food or milk. Luckily we had plenty, in our cooler in the garden, but we started to buy wartime food, like evaporated milk, just in case. Restaurants were generally closed, except for a few pizza places.
It was getting colder, with no heating in people's houses. We had never lit a fire in our fireplace before, as last winter was mild and our house is usually warm, but we decided to do it. We didn't have logs, but The Doctor, in full hunter/gatherer mode, managed to chop up some of the fallen tree branches in the garden and we lit a small fire with those and charcoal. Even so, when we put the boys to bed, they complained of being cold, so I let them curl up together in one bunk for warmth.

Thursday 1st November.
It was cold, very cold, when we woke up. We dressed the boys in full winter gear and I headed up to our neighbours' house as The Doctor headed to work - mainly so he could email people and charge up iPhones, iPads and laptops. Mobile coverage was still thin. Wild rumours were starting to fly - the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) was saying we might not get power back for up to two weeks, some people said maybe even until Thanksgiving. School would start on Monday - or no, maybe not till the power came back. The shops were out of food. You could get firewood somewhere, but it was really expensive. You could get food down the road in Bayside, Queens - but getting in and out of town was a nightmare. AT&T had "switched off the internet" (this last one made The Doctor guffaw). People were muttering about looting. It was beginning to feel like something out of a zombie apocalypse film - I would not have been surprised if several zombies had pitched up at this point and started attacking us.
The  Doctor did well on his mission. He returned with fresh food from Queens, firewood and fully charged iPads - all the essentials of modern life. We took hot showers at our neighbour's house, and hunkered down with our firewood and candles for the night.
Then - action. Some trucks arrived in our street and started sawing away at the tree that had fallen on the power line. Everyone went out to have a look. The crew were not LIPA but people from Buffalo in upstate New York, come down to help out. They were working round the clock to restore power. Suddenly our faith in America came flooding back - they were not going to abandon us to the cold and dark.
An hour later, the lights popped back on! We were able to watch TV, and finally see the horrifying images of what was going on around us. The house started to warm up, and we could finally run the dishwasher and washing machine. The candles were blown out, hopefully for the last time for a while.

Friday 2nd November - today.
Even with full power back on at home, it's still not back to normal, not by any means. Only our part of town seems to have power - perhaps because we are near the supermarket. There is a huge queue for the petrol station down the road - many are still closed. The Doctor has gone to work, but the boys and I are staying put - to conserve petrol, as well as anything else.
Many people still can't get to work, although there is now a partial train service to Manhattan. My boss lives in Brooklyn, but can't get a subway in to the Manhattan office.  The images of the subway stations that we've seen suggest that parts of Manhattan may be out of action for weeks.
I still do not see how they can possibly hold the Presidential Election next Tuesday. People will not be able to get to the polls, and even if they can, that will probably be the last thing on their mind. People in Staten Island, right next to New York, are saying they are starving. Elderly people in high rise blocks are trapped in their homes with no elevators.
Whether or not the election happens, America has got to get a grip on climate change. This won't be the last "superstorm", for sure. If Obama gets re-elected, he's got to take the leadership on this. That might be the only good thing to come out of this storm.


Iota said...

"...drank wine and tea..." It's the little details that count!

Glad to hear you're ok, and I do hope your back can be sorted out. What a really rough time you've had.

I, too, have wondered if this might be a wake-up call, not so much on climate change but our huge dependence on electricity, and all that that entails.

Conuly said...

Here on Staten Island, on the North Shore, we are fine... but our section is very hilly. I can believe things are bad on the rest of the island, it's very low lying, and people have built right onto the wetlands. I'm glad to hear you are all right.

Expat mum said...

Blimey - what a nightmare. The Queenager is in DC and I was worried there for a while.
Hope things get back to normal as soon as possible. x

Potty Mummy said...

Thanks for that - I had been thinking about you and wondering how it had been. Glad you are all OK, whatever else comes out of this... x

Karen said...

Glad to hear you're ok. It all sounds so sureal.
On the back Sciatica front I know what you're going through. L5S1 for me was bulging-had an operation 17 years ago-lost feeling on the right side of my foot due to permanent nerve damage. If I can make any suggestions it is to do Yoga. That's the only thing that has kept me from another surgery. Start off gently and with an instructor that can guide you through some moves. Hot yoga is even better but not many of those studios around.
Take care of you and your loved ones!

Tanya (bump2Basics) said...

Saw some of your photos on FB Alex, was glad to see you are all alright. Such madness. Glad things are starting to slowly get better and that the boys still got a bit of spooky fun in. And take care with the sciatica, sorry to hear about that.

sheila said...

Essentials of life indeed. Glad no one was hurt and that you seem to be coping well.

MsCaroline said...

Thanks for the update, and I'm glad (again) to hear you're all OK. I'm so sorry about the disc - I had been wondering about your unusual silence, but now I understand completely. I ruptured a disc a few years ago and found it to be one of the most discouraging times of my life- could barely walk or sit and was in agony in any position except flat on my stomach. PT made a huge difference for me, though, and I still do the exercises 3+ years later - although not religiously, I admit.
I'm so glad you weathered the storm safely, although it sounds like there is still a long way to go - your neighborhood sounds wonderful, too. Glad the boys still got a little Halloween - trying to do things as normally as possible is so important! It will be interesting to see what is done once the recovery process is underway. I read an article in which a meteorologist (based on climate change models) had predicted an event just like this - back in 2005 or 2006. So sad that his warnings have been proven correct twice - first with Irene, and now Sandy. I hope everyone - not just New York - takes this as a wake-up call. People need to stop debating about whether climate change is 'real' or not and instead focus on addressing the situation.

Nota Bene said...

Hi...we were away so watched all this going on whilst watching CNN and BBC World...was worried how you were all coping, but remained totally confident that you would all be OK...glad my faith was justified....hope the boys found it an adventure rather than a trauma. You've recorded it all so well for posterity.

Sorry to hear about the sciatica...I hear so much about it these days.

Keep well and safe

Kath said...

Glad to hear your ok and really feel for the elderly stuck in their homes.

Circles in the Sand said...

Unbelievable. So glad to be back in contact with you! It sounded terrifying - and close to a complete breakdown of life as we know it. So relieved to hear you're all ok. The weather in the UK is going to feel so mild in comparison. I'm so sorry to hear about your sciatica too - M had the same thing just before we got married. I really hope you're not in too much pain with it. Much love xoxox

Anonymous said...

long-time reader, first time commenter. I’m very glad you are your family are okay. I’m in Australia and we have been watching it all unfold on the news.
I can relate completely- I live in Brisbane, QLD and in January last year most of QLD was underwater. In Brisbane there was about a day and half warning so people could get evacuate, sand bag and prepare but in other towns, like Grantham for instance, there was absolutely no warning that the water was coming and many people died.
I live 30kms north of Brisbane and we live on a river and we had no warning either. one minute the river was flowing as usual and the next a 30 foot wall of water ripped through. It was powerful that our horses were washed away (thankfully to higher ground and they survived), trees were ripped out, banks collapsed and people on our street lost everything. it’s a very hilly street and while our house was okay being on the hill our land was flooded and all our fences ripped out. But that is nothing compared to our neighbours at the bottom of the hill whose house flooded to the roof (two story house) and they literally lost everything they owned. It was sheer luck they weren’t home or they would have died. Their house has been demolished because it was too damaged.
I just made it home, the bridges flooded over 5 minutes after I got through and we were flooded in for a week. Thankfully we had power unlike a lot of people

I hope everyone pitches in to help out over there the way they did here. The “Mud Army” helped clean up damage in Brisbane

AHLondon said...

Houston here. Glad to hear you are ok. Everything you've described—the wind, the tea, the night, the trees, the gathering at a house with power with all the dads around—typical for a hurricane save I cannot believe that they didn't have you evacuate. For future reference everyone, if you can see the coast or any inland waterway, you are way too close to ride out a hurricane. Honestly, Sandy has stunned us down here. Granted we deal with storms more often and so are more prepared—many people have generators, bug out bags and such—but I have never seen anything like the fuel and food issues in New Jersey. And 4-5 days isn't that unusual for power out, except its the last people then. Ike was a big boy and saw a few power outages at around 2 weeks, so Sandy will probably be similar. It's a lot of power to restore.
Someone was asking how to help remotely, maybe Iota at her place. Anyway, some people at are looking into finding a point person that is UPS accessible to send supplies for distribution. Otherwise, the Red Cross. Despite the news, they are still doing the most food and shelter help it seems.
As for your back, poor thing. I've been there. Follow the therapy they give you. Lots of ab exercise and low back stretches. Talk with doc about reassessing your shoes. It takes time, but it can resolve. It took a while, but I've not had a problem in years.

Melissa said...

I even mentioned you to my husband when we were bobbing around the Panamanian seas. I hoped you were ok, and glad to hear that in the scheme of things you were. But what a scary experience for you all.

Elsie Button said...

Crikey, what a read - you really went through it - unbelievable. Hope things return to normal soon - been thinking about all of you xx

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

I'm with Iota, 'drinking wine and tea...'

I thought of you and a couple of other bloggers I 'know' in the area. What a thing to experience, what a scary adventure--so glad you're back and all is well.

And what a document for you and the world you have here!

And as for the other stuff, the physical, I hope that clears soon. Hope the physio helps. x