One Hurricane Sandy Story … from Jersey City
I don’t know why human beings consistently underestimate the impact of predicted disasters, but like everyone else that was there, I stayed in Jersey City on the night of October 29th, 2012.
In the days before, I watched the television with its dire warnings of an unusually high storm surge expected due to the full moon that night, and offshore models depicted a precise landfall trajectory for Hurricane Sandy to cause the most damage. I mentally made a note that I should buy a bottle of water along with my diet iced tea and two days of food. And I did too, I got a 12 ounce bottle of water.
I’m sure I was much less prepared than most: I had candles but no matches, I didn’t fill my car with gas, I had no flashlight, no battery powered radio, and not even a hand crank can opener. I also had no cash on hand, well unless you count two dollars. No, my preparation consisted of “stockpiling” 48 hours worth of fresh food – enough for the day of the expected storm and the day after, when I imagined any clean-up would take place.
And even after I heard low-lying areas of Jersey City were under a voluntary evacuation, I just assumed since I am “many blocks” from a marina inlet just off the Hudson River, and because there was no flooding during Hurricane Irene last year that I did not live in one of these alleged low-lying areas. Let me add that at no time did the news specify which areas of Jersey City were low-lying, we were just expected to know.
What does a prospectus to an investor say? Past performance is no indication of future results.
These are words printed regularly on documents warning human beings about, essentially, human nature. We underestimate what we think the worst could be until it happens and then we readjust our new reality accordingly based on our direct experiences.
For some of us, our parents or grandparents lived through the Great Depression. Many of us couldn’t understand the strange behaviors of a whole group of people who “lived without” for decades. Toasting slightly stale bread because it was “still good” or saving what seemed to be junk because it might have a future use, or putting savings away even when you didn’t have a lot because you should “just in case.”
In case of what, we always asked? We could never imagine.
Until I became an adult I never understood any of it, but these childhood experiences and conversations came back to me as I lay in a pitch black apartment during the storm. Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
THE FATEFUL MOMENT
So, as I said, I ensconced myself in my second floor apartment with two days of food in my refrigerator. I also plugged in my computer and cell phone in the unlikely event I’d lose electric for a few hours.
The television repeatedly said the worst of the surge was expected at 8pm EST. The wind was howling outside at that time, and the branches of a nearby slender tree whipped against my window in bursts, but the rain didn’t seem too severe. It was the wind that was frightening because it was much more ferocious than what we experienced during Irene, when I was also in my apartment, and thus could compare the impact of each storm to the other.
At about ten minutes after 9pm, I heard a loud POP and a transformer on the street light across the street on the corner exploded, sending yellow electrical sparks flying everywhere. Then a terrifying second POP as another transformer exploded beside a tree directly across the street, and the tree caught on fire.
My heart started racing and I began cursing aloud in my empty apartment. I ran down the stairs toward the front door, wondering if the neighborhood, which consists of connected row houses, would soon be burning to the ground. It would be extremely easy for a fire to spread rapidly.
When I got to the top step of my front porch, I was momentarily relieved when I saw the rain put out the tree fire. Then I looked down the street and instead of pavement, I saw a rippling river of surge water flowing toward me.
The view from my top porch step during the height of Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge
The water was already covering the bottom-most step of my front porch, which meant it was already above the street level and above the curb and above a full porch step. It did not occur to me at that moment, but that level was also already above the window line of basement garden apartments on my block.
Eerily the lights of a tavern diagonally across from my building illuminated the scene. Unbenownst to me five feet of water was also rushing into their less-than-a-year-old commercial kitchen, located in the building’s basement.
As I looked in the other direction, my heart sank. My car was parked on the street just twenty feet duther down from my front door, with the water creeping up the wheels of my two month old brand new car. I just stood there in shock imagining water rushing in between the door seams and into the muffler, completely totaling the car. I remember feeling so helpless to stop it.
The wind continued to gust and howl, and there was nothing to do but go back upstairs. When I got there, the lights began to dim in a brown-out fashion, so I turned off the television and all the lights…but then the electric went out anyway and the street went dark. I didn’t fully realize it at that moment, but my cell phone signal also went out.
Only the howling of the wind kept me company.
I began pacing back and forth for an hour in my living room. I repeatedly looked outside to see if I could catch my car’s final demise if anyone drove down the block, but I just couldn’t tell where the water line was. I decided to go to bed in the hopes that when I woke the storm would have passed and any damage could be easily assessed and repaired.
Little did I know, or comprehend, of what was to come.
A car speeds past me during the height of the surge, trying to race to higher ground.
END OF PART ONE
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