Oh the Humanity – Hurricane Sandy – Part Four

One Hurricane Sandy Story … from Jersey City

PART FOUR

This is the final installment of my Hurricane Sandy story. For those of you who would like to read the whole saga, begin with The Rushing of the Water, Part One; then Days of Darwin, Part Two; Lights Out, Part Three; and this piece Oh the Humanity, Part Four.

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THE NEW NORMAL

A little over a month has passed since super-storm Sandy pummeled her way up the coast and smashed into the New Jersey shore and New York City metro area. For most of the rest of the world, they’ve probably forgotten the devastation that happened here and imagine our lives are back to normal.

They are not.

As of this writing, PATH trains from Jersey City into New York City (9th, 14th, 23rd and 33rd Streets) are not running on the weekends. It was only about 2 weeks ago that the PATH train which runs from Newark to World Trade Center re-opened. In fact, normally the PATH runs until 1am daily, and these days when the PATH is running, it only runs until 10pm. The subway from New York City to Brooklyn (the L train) was closed for at least three weeks, and people essentially had no way to get to work by subway if they lived along that train line.

If you are not from this area, it’s hard to imagine why that’s such an inconvenience. Try to remember, in the NYC metro area, we are talking about 100’s of 1000’s of people using these transit systems daily. Then add in the Christmas visitors who arrive in droves – from all over the world – to see the magic of New York City at the holiday time, take in a Rockettes show, see the tree, and yes, visit family in New Jersey, Brooklyn or elsewhere and you have an ongoing massive mass-transit problem on your hands. (That doesn’t stop the Port Authority from charging you twelve bucks to go through the Holland Tunnel in your car to get to Manhattan though…

I ran into someone today who told me that “the only good thing about having to move was that it went so fast because there wasn’t much to take with him. He and his wife lost nearly everything during the storm.” He gave a half-hearted laugh, which is heart-breaking. He said the worst thing he lost was photographs printed on paper which he cannot replace. He vowed to reach out to his friends during the holidays to ask them to share whatever photos they have as their holiday gifts to him.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

I’m thinking back now to the days after the storm, and there are vignettes in my mind that stuck with me because of how human and decent they were…

Previously I mentioned how woefully unprepared I was for the storm. I had candles but no matches, for example. I was walking down the street to buy some food, and I stopped at my neighbor’s house. One of my neighbors is an older gentleman and his wife, and his children were there trying to use a hand-held plastic bucket to empty out the four feet of water that had accumulated in the ground floor level of his apartment. I suggested that it was probably dangerous to keep stepping in the water (this was the day after the storm) since we were unsure whether the electric was fully off or not. The man’s daughter had not considered this and stopped what she was doing. Later they did get someone to pump the water out for them.

In the meantime, we talked about how cold it was, and that we had no heat. I mentioned that I had no matches to light my candles, or even to light my stove, and the daughter ran into the house and came back out to hand me handfuls of matches they had gotten in a large box. I only accepted two books from her, telling her I’m sure I wouldn’t need more than that. She assured me they had plenty, and I promised to come back and ask for a few more if I really needed them.

The matches came in handy that night…and for the nights following that while I continued to stay in the apartment:

A group of candles lit during the Hurricane Sandy power outage

A group of candles lit during the Hurricane Sandy power outage

Meanwhile during the day, people emptied the entire contents of their homes and left them at the curb:

Furniture and other belongings left at the curb in Jersey City after the storm

Furniture and other belongings left at the curb in Jersey City after the storm

.

The entire contents of an apartment left at the curb

The entire contents of an apartment left at the curb

Finally, the high point of my worst days after the storm was a kind of miraculous moment (for me). I was coming back from having bought a little food and I saw the hair salon near my house that I go to regularly. The door was ajar, and there was a generator outside but it wasn’t running.

I pushed the door open and the owner of the salon was sitting there warming her hands over a candle at the reception desk. The salon was empty. I asked her how she was doing, and she said the generator had stopped running and she wasn’t sure how she was going to get her business back up until electric was restored. She mentioned she hadn’t been flooded, and somehow, she added, they still had some hot water left in their tank. It was 4 days after the storm, so that was surprising.

Rita, I said, it’s been four days since I’ve been able to wash my hair. I don’t have hot water at home, would you mind washing my hair? Of course, she said.

I took off the hat I was wearing and she proceeded to wash my hair. It was an emotional moment because it just felt like all the disastrous, terrible things that had been bottled up inside me were threatening to come spilling out as she rinsed the soap and conditioner off my now clean hair.

She towel dried my hair and apologized because there was no electric so my hair would have to stay wet in the cold, no hair dryers. I was so grateful, I told her, and the lack of hair dryers didn’t matter to me at all.

Just as I put my hat back on my wet hair, the lights in the salon came on. “Oh!” Rita said, surprised. “Oh my god!” she said, again. Then she went rushing around the salon to check all the electric, and unbelievably, the electric for that street had been restored… just at the moment we finished.

We were both so overwhelmed by the simple act of the lights coming back on, we hugged each other. I walked home feeling like I was part of some strange miracle. It was like I had seen a glimpse of what can happen when people are good and kind to one another.

 

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