The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
I keep postponing blogging about the hurricane. Everything that this area went through just can’t be summed up with words. The winds shook our house, but it still stands; so many people lost their homes, their lives, their entire worlds. We lost power for five days, but got it back; so many people are still without power and will be for many more days. Our shore is in tatters. Families are in shelters. I never, ever could have imagined something like this could happen here.
Losing the electricity seemed more of nuisance than anything else. We boiled pots and pots of water to generate heat in the house. We had non-perishables to eat and not much was on ice past day 2 other than soda. 1 out of every 4 cell towers was down so we had no cell signal to reach the internet. Thank God we still have a landline and a battery powered radio because they were our only links to what was happening the week after the hurricane.
After the power went out, the winds picked up. We had a steady 30 mph wind most of the day with gusts to about 50 as attested to by our tree. But it seemed that as soon as it went dark, the winds were a steady 50, gusting to 80. We sat in the dark, looking out the window and watched explosion after explosion light up the sky an eerie green color. It looked like a scene from Twister. Transformers were blowing all over the place. Each time the sky would glow, you’d catch a glimpse of the ominous clouds swirling. I truly, truly believed that a cyclone was heading towards our house and I screamed for my husband to run into the basement. I have only felt that sheer terror one other time, and that was when I ran for my life from the World Trade Center on 9/11. At that moment, I thought if the ‘cyclone’ doesn’t kill me, a heart attack would. I cried for a good 15 minutes after my husband convinced me that a twister wasn’t right outside our door.
The winds howled and the house shook and the windows rattled and I thought they would blow in. We had candles lit and the news on the radio and blankets set up in the interior hallway. It sounded and felt like a freight train was going 100 mph down the street and this train went on forever. The winds didn’t die down until around 3:00 a.m. That was the first time since the storm started that my mind felt it was safe enough to allow my body to shut down. I slept in fits over the course of the next 4 hours as the temperature dipped.
In the morning, the wind was still blowing but in gusts, instead of continuously. We stepped out into the yard, into the light, rubbing our eyes, and this was the first photo I took.
The sky looked pretty but evil. We surveyed the property and saw that we had no damage other than the loss of limbs on a single tree. We were shocked and so incredibly grateful. We drove over to Highlands which was still flooded and the streets leading down into the town were blocked off. We parked behind Off the Hook and walked across the Azzolina (Sandy Hook) Bridge which was also closed. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw as we walked into Sea Bright.
Ocean Avenue was completely covered in sand. It is hard to tell from the photos, but this sand was anywhere from 3 to 7 feet deep. I believe the sea wall may have helped to prevent some of the homes from being completely destroyed. But it was clear that the ocean had met the river and covered everything in between. At the time, we were unaware that natural gas leaks were happening all over the area and soon the police were asking everyone to evacuate and walk back over the bridge. This was looking down from the bridge onto Bahr’s restaurant.
Trees were down everywhere. Just toppled over onto houses and into streets as if a giant hand flicked them over, roots and all. Some of those trees were over 60 foot high. We saw utility poles down and some were leaning towards homes. We saw tops of poles that looked like they had been on fire at some point. Traffic signals and street lights were on the ground. Right away, people started to clear the debris from the roads and their properties. You could hear generators firing up. Boy, they are LOUD.
We went back to the house and started our daily ritual of water boiling. There was condensation EVERYwhere…. the walls, the cabinets…. I had to use a squeegee to look out the windows. But it did work! It raised the temperature enough to be bearable in sweatshirts. I had A LOT of time on my hands without Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, Pinterest, email, iChat, Photoshop, WordPress, Blogger, and everything else that seems to have been running my life lately. So what did I do you ask? At first, nothing. Without online access, it felt like there was ‘nothing’ to do. But after a few hours, I found LOTS to do. I cleaned. I straightened. I organized. I crocheted. I stamped. I walked. I talked. I pruned. I raked. I read. And I laughed. LAUGHED. Something that I hadn’t done much of lately. We fell into a routine. Get up, shower, get dressed, make oatmeal. Go out or find a chore to do. Have lunch. Go out or find a chore to do. Light the candles, turn on 101.5 FM, boil the water, have dinner. Play a game, have a deep discussion, go to bed. It was WONDERFUL. Yep. I said it. Being without power was W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L. For the first time, I realized that as much as I enjoy photography and running my paper shop on Etsy, those 2 things have been completely sucking the life out of me. Literally. And sucking up ALL of my time. So much so, that I haven’t had the time to do any of the other things that I enjoy in life. I haven’t had time to see my loved ones or beloved friends. This was a wake-up call. So while others were complaining about having to use their iPads instead of their iMacs and how their generators were only running one lamp in addition to the fridge, I was happily stringing colored twine onto hand-stamped tags by candlelight wearing long-johns under my jeans and I was smiling.
One day (and I can’t tell you which one because when you have no power and no internet and no t.v. you really cannot tell one day from the next) we drove to Atlantic Highlands to check out the marina. The National Guard was there and they had barricades up so we couldn’t get close. But we were able to see boats strewn about like toys and it appeared that there was extensive damage to the municipal marina.
I heard that the restaurants there had extensive damage (Sissy’s by the Harbor and On the Deck). So so sad. My husband and I have been going to this marina since we were teenagers. My husband had a small boat given to him as a senior in high school and he had it in the Atlantic Highlands marina yard on a trailer. We would go down there almost every weekend. We’ve been walking that same stretch of the harbor for 27 years and it was heartbreaking to see it in this condition.
After we got power back, we learned of various volunteer opportunities going on around the neighborhood, one of which was being run by my friend Jill out of Station 7 in Belford. Jill and her team spent hours and hours this weekend collecting food, clothes and supplies; sorting them all and providing them to anyone who needed them in addition to driving the supplies to shelters at Croydon Hall, Union Beach and Keansburg. Union Beach was hit especially hard. That town is right on the Raritan and a surge wiped out a good portion of the area. We donated food and drove supplies to Croydon and Union Beach. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw at Union Beach… SO many families in need of, well, everything. A woman was overjoyed when she saw we had a pack of napkins fall out of one of the boxes and she snatched it right up. Napkins. All of the little, everyday things we take for granted…. and these people now have nothing. They have to start all over. They can’t ‘go home’.
I still cannot wrap my head around what our shore has been through regardless of how many images and videos I see. The beaches are such a HUGE part of this area’s daily life… seeing it all in tatters is just too heartbreaking for words. One of the local gyms has a slogan that has now been adopted by everyone here: Jersey Strong. We ARE strong. And we WILL rebuild. My heart and prayers go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy. Just know that we take care of our own and everyone will be pitching in to get our shore communities back to their rightful place as the jewels of Jersey.