Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

I'll start by saying we're pretty lucky. I have power back now, for one thing, and our house had no real damage - nothing I couldn't fix with my bare hands, anyway. Just one mile away from here, it's still a complete shambles. I don't mean to make light of the situation down there or anywhere else with anything I'm about to write. This is just my experience living through Hurricane Sandy.

Despite my somewhat outdated blog title, these days I live on Long Island with my wife. Her job requires her to work whenever there's a disaster of any kind, so I'm left holding the fort. We technically live in an evacuation zone, but not for any real reason other than being on the wrong side of the only geographical feature that it makes sense for the government to use as the dividing line (a major road). But we're not in a flood plain and we're not really anywhere near the coast, so I stayed home during the hurricane, as I did during Irene.

The day of the hurricane started out pretty normally - we'd ridden out Irene with no real ill effects so I just worked from home and kept the TV on. Right around 5PM, we lost power, but I was prepared for that. I'd charged all my devices (including two tablets to keep me busy) and stocked up on food and water. I wasn't really prepared for how bad the wind got, though. It was nothing like Irene.

I shot a few short videos during the storm. The first was right around when we lost power, which was before the wind got really bad. The second (after it gets dark) was supposed to show this weird flashing light off in the distance, and I can see it in the original video but I think YouTube changed the frame rate and that killed most of the flashing. Our house is pretty quiet (it was built in 1923) so you don't hear the wind much in my videos shot from inside, but trust me when I say the whole house was shaking. Also, keep in mind I shot this during the storm, so I had no idea how bad it actually was - but you can hear how freaked out I sound. Any other day and even I'd say I sound like a drama queen, but I was watching debris flying down my street at about 100mph while I was recording some of this. I could see more than the blackness recorded on the video. Also, I make reference at one point to a lot of trees being down - I heard that on my police scanner, before the police themselves lost power and went dark.

It's hard to convey how weird the atmosphere was during the storm. Just total blackness punctuated by transformer explosions all around and this weird flashing light, no sound other than the wind. It was otherworldly.

After the wind died down a bit around 10PM, I tried to just keep myself busy any way I could.

The next morning I went out to survey the damage. Luckily our house was basically unscathed with the exception of one missing shingle from our shed and one piece of siding that popped loose, which I was able to mostly fix by hand. A lot of other houses had more damage, though, and I found this one block over:

There was a lot of that, and I discovered that most roads were actually impassable. This wasn't the biggest downed tree I saw, just the closest.

We ended up spending 4 days without power, which is nothing compared to what some people only a mile or so south of us have gone through. Being without power for any length of time is just miserable; it forces an entire lifestyle change. Humans lived without power for thousands of years but we're obviously not used to it here and now, and while I'm sure I could adapt if we suddenly went into full-on Revolution mode and nothing worked anymore, it's definitely a pretty major adjustment. You do what you can during daylight, then sit around the fire and talk at night. It sounds kind of romantic to describe it, but not when it's also freezing cold.

It's also very, very boring. This sounds like a first world problem but again, it's not the lack of power that's really the issue - it's being unprepared for a long outage. In the 1800's when nobody had power, they built their lifestyle around that fact - maybe you play a board game at night, or maybe one of the people in your family plays the banjo or something and everybody in the family dances around the fire. But we normally have power and only lost it for a few hours during Irene, so I had only prepared for an outage of about a day - all my "things to do" were based on battery power. Beyond that, picking up the newspaper at our local 7-11 (which was open and accepting cash despite also being powerless) was the highlight of the day. Once we wore out that paper, we were kind of stuck staring at nothing for the next few hours. By the 4th day we were starting to lose it a little bit. 4 days with power is nothing; 4 days without power feels like forever.

You can actually see this problem with people who still have no power - they're going crazy out of boredom. I don't blame them.

I actually managed to stretch out my Nexus 7 battery for all 4 days with judicious use. I did manage to read for an hour or two each night.

Freakin' Baseball '12 using my battery when I wasn't even playing it!

Our candle lineup... getting ready to light them for the night.

My wife and I handled the outage a little differently. I really started to get mopey on the 4th day, while my wife started getting artificially cheerful and got mad when I didn't follow along. Still, we both literally jumped up and down and hugged when the power came back - which it always does suddenly and without warning after an outage like this. One minute you're in the dark, the next, poof: you're back in the 21st century. The first thing we did was turn on the TV, and we were shocked by what we saw. We literally had no idea how bad it really was before that. The newspaper showed some photos, but it's different to see just how big and how many areas were affected.

It's a little hard to see, but gas lines started to form on the 3rd or 4th night. This was at 5:30AM on Saturday morning - can you believe that? I'd forgotten there even was a gas station near us - it's literally about 1/4 mile away, and people were lining up all the way down the avenue that runs perpendicular to my street. There's a cop car there to keep the peace, and that line near the bottom right corner of the photo is police tape to keep cars from turning onto my street and bothering us.

This was the first hint of blue sky. It took several days for the sky to clear up, unlike most hurricanes that move very quickly. Sandy just stuck around seemingly forever. Even after this little patch of blue, it was several more days before things really cleared up.

Here's the gas line a couple days later. I'm sure some of these people really needed it, but some of them were just idiots! They heard there were gas lines so goddammit, now they need to get gas! We got gas before the storm (like smart people) so even though my wife had to drive to work due to the transit outage, we were okay for a few days. Eventually the hysteria died down and we just drove up and got gas, no line.

To add insult to injury, while much of the area was still cleaning up after Sandy, we faced this just a couple weeks later. We ended up getting about 8" of heavy, wet snow, with leaves still on the trees - Sandy didn't bring our trees down but I was worried this storm would. One of our trees ended up resting on our roof from the weight, but luckily it all melted off by the next day (from the trees, not the ground).

After two hurricanes in two years, I really hope this area gets a little break for a while now.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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