Wednesday 14 November 2012


Life on Long Island is slowly returning to normal. The queues for petrol have all but gone, thanks to gasoline rationing (you can only go on an even-numbered day of the month if your number plate ends in an even number, and so forth). Most people in town have their power back (but only just - one friend got it back on Sunday night); the local library is looking less like a refugee camp. The daily phone messages from the town emergency management officer  are drying up; some people say they will actually miss him and his calming messages, as they felt he was the one voice of reason in a crazy world. Oh, and the head of LIPA (Long Island Power Authority) has resigned. No-one is too sorry about that one.

The landscape still looks a little like "Godzilla had gone through it", as one friend put it. Trees snapped in half, gardens ruined. But this is nothing compared to the South Shore of Long Island and the Rockaways (just 15 miles or so from here), where whole communities have been ruined; houses flooded and the streets are lined with debris, while two weeks of unflushed toilets mean a stench pervades the air. Some people I know have driven down there to help, taking supplies for those who have lost everything; their reports back are startling, horrific.

But restoration is happening. And that is what I need as well. Someone to restore me to health. I'm still in pain with my sciatica. Six weeks of worrying and not sleeping are taking their toll, and sometimes I don't know what are real symptoms and what are imagined. I've been checked out physically with blood tests; nothing is apparently wrong. But I still don't feel right. My body, equilibrium and mind are out of whack; my whole body feels stiff and ungainly and it feels as if there's a great weight pressing down on me from above. I keep wondering what happened to the fit, healthy, happy person I was three months ago. Thank goodness for my boys (all three of them). They keep me going. Littleboy 2 wrote me a note the other night: "I love mummy mor than anyone can thik" (sic). You can't crack up completely when you have a little boy like that around.

So, it goes on. And we wait for restoration.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

A funny old Election

A few months ago, I was quite looking forward to being here for the American Election. I never dreamed it would be like it has been.

First of all, life has not returned to normal here. Some people in our town are still without power - 10 days after Hurricane Sandy. The weather has turned cold now and today there is a snowstorm with high winds - causing even more blackouts. The lights have flickered a few times today already and I'm hoping desperately we don't lose power again. School went back on Monday, but the kids have no homework due to people not having power at home, and a lot of after school activities have been cancelled. Then there is the petrol shortage. Many petrol stations are not open - whether due to lack of power or lack of gasoline is not entirely clear. In addition to this, people have panicked and rushed out to fill up. There are queues five hours long all over Long Island and everywhere you go, you see people standing around in the cold with jerry cans. Luckily we haven't had to fill up yet, but if it isn't over by the weekend we may be waiting in line with everyone else. Meanwhile, on the South Shore of Long Island, not 20 miles away, people are homeless, with all their possessions destroyed, rubble that hasn't been cleared and certainly no power or water. My heart goes out to them this cold, snowy night.

So watching the Election coverage seemed slightly surreal with all this going on - not to mention my current illness/pain, which is making everything seem nightmarish anyway. Somehow the problems we, as a family and as a community, are going through made the Election seem rather trivial.

Nevertheless I am relieved that Barack Obama came through. To me, his heart is in the right place and he cares about making this country a better place to live, whereas Romney was all about money and ensuring that rich America gets richer.

On another note, I am still astonished by the lack of political discussion in social circles here. Normally, the people I know here don't discuss their politics at all. During the last few weeks, I have heard some conversations - one at a party where someone was being attacked for supporting Romney, and the hostess quickly stopped the conversation; one at a dinner party where again, what would have been in the UK a spirited political discussion turned slightly awkward. The only proper discussions we've had about the Election have been with non Americans. (People do seem more willing to share their thoughts on social media though - people have "liked" candidates, and there have been some comments on Facebook today (one person  saying that what with the Hurricane and now Obama's re-election, it's like the end of the world has come).)

So, we continue to recover from the storm. Maybe sometime, things will go back to normal.

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.