Friday, November 2, 2012

After the Storm

I moved to Missouri in January of 2010.  Coming from New Jersey, I didn't really know what to expect.  I figured those midwest states were all about shotguns and chewing tobacco.  I guess it's easy to develop that kind of stereotype when that's all you see on television.  But after living here for nearly three years, I can safely say that I like it here.  Sure, the tornado sirens are a bit tough to handle at times, and the F4 tornado that came within a couple short miles of our apartment last year (the one that hit the St. Louis Airport) certainly put the fear of God into me.  But there are lots of places where you can view the beauty of nature in ways I couldn't in Jersey.  And the attitudes of people here are a good deal better - no Jersey girls or Situation wannabes here.

Still, no matter where I live or where I go, I'll always call New Jersey home.  So when Hurricane Sandy was forecast to hit my home head-on earlier this week, I got a bit nervous.  I mean, I still have family there - my mother, my sister and her husband, one of my brothers and his family, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.

But New Jersey has been through this routine before.  The earliest storm I can remember that sent the state into panic mode was Hurricane Gloria in 1985.  I was five years old then, but I remember schools being closed that day and the morning TV shows were all taken over by news broadcasts.  My cousins were taping up their windows next door.  People were bracing for the worst.  Everyone expected it to be a disaster.

The sun was out by lunch time.

Throughout the following years, that became the trend.  No, not trend - the norm.  Whenever the news would forecast a terrible storm like a tropical storm or hurricane, they'd freak out like New Jersey was going to crumble to its foundation.  But the storms hit, the winds blew, the rains flooded, and we moved on within days.  Even the dreaded Hurricane Irene, the fabled storm of storms from last year, was at one time expected to flood out Wall Street in New York City.  Don't get me wrong, I know that flooding happened in several areas and there were trees/power lines down in many places.  But just like all the other storms, it left relatively little damage when compared to the real hurricane destruction in places like Florida and Louisiana.

So naturally, when forecasters started running around like headless chickens over the threat posed by Hurricane Sandy, many long-time New Jersey natives shrugged and went about their daily lives.  That's not to say no one prepared anything, of course - we always sandbag our shorelines and board up coastal windows.  But for the most part, those steps were taken more as precautions than as necessities.  The people did it "just in case" the storm turned out to be bad, figuring the most cleanup they'd need to do would be to remove the wooden boards and maybe pump an inch or two of water out of their basements.

That's not what happened this time.

I can't fault New Jersey for being caught offguard despite the warnings.  I really can't.  We live in an age when meteorologists can't seem to determine the path or intensity of 99% of storms until they are already happening.  So why would anyone believe this to be any different?  Even when Irene hit, forecasters were calling for several inches of additional rainfall as the sun was coming out.  That rain, of course, never came.  New Jerseyans are so used to being protected by that "It can't happen to me" feeling that they had no way of knowing what was about to happen to them.

They know now.  And as I stood outside my office on Monday, staring into the clear autumn skies over St. Louis while I talked to my mother on the phone, I wished I could trade places with her.  She sat in our house - the house she raised four children in, the house in which my father was born, the house in which he died, and the house she now cares for by herself - alone to face the biggest storm the northeast United States has ever seen.  I'd have traded spots with her in a second if I could have.

But my mother, trooper that she is, didn't seem worried.  She may have been; I don't know.  But she didn't seem to be.  She said she hoped the power would last long enough for the sump pump to keep the basement dry, but other than that, she was ready to ride it out.  Our house is kind of on a mountainside, and that helps to prevent winds from really reaching top speeds.  That also helps drain off major rainfall so that there's never really and drastic flooding.  She said she'd be OK, and if there's one thing I know about my mother, it's that I can trust her judgement.  If she said she'd be OK, she would be.

My sister, on the other hand, lives right on the edge of a flood zone.  She's near the Passaic River, which requires little more than the squirt of a water gun to flood.  And even though she's on the second floor, that didn't mean she was necessarily safe.  Plus, she's got a sliding glass door that leads to her balcony from her living room - a bullseye for any powerful gust of wind. But she didn't seem too worried either, so that made me feel a bit more confident.

Most of my other family members made it clear via facebook that they were ready to take on Sandy. But my worries shifted to the south.  Growing up, my family shared ownership in a beach house down in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, we wound up selling the house in 2008.  But it was, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite place in the world.  Laura has painted me a few pictures of the house since we left Jersey, and I've got an old photo of it here on my desk at home.  Many of my most cherished memories are from Point Pleasant, and as a child, I hoped to be able to buy the house from my parents once day.  But life doesn't always work out quite the way we want, and we no longer own the house.  Still, that has done nothing to weaken my attachment to it, and every summer when we drive out to NJ to visit my mother for her birthday, I make sure we spend at least a day in Point Pleasant.

Our simple little beach house.  If, by chance, you happen to be familiar with my "One Last Time" video series on Youtube, you'll be familiar with this place.  That video series was from our last stay in the house before its sale.
So when they said that the Jersey Shore was taking the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, my heart dropped.  The house is literally two houses away from the beach.  If the flood waters raised to the levels being predicted, it would surely be destroyed.  And even though it's not my house to be concerned with anymore, a part of me sincerely hopes that it provides the same good times and great memories to its new owners that it provided to us over the years.  To see it destroyed would break my heart in more ways than one.

My family/friends made it through the storm, thank the Lord.  There was no visible damage to my mother's house, and while two trees fell near my sister's home, they didn't hit the building.  However, like most of New Jersey, just about everyone I know everyone lost power.  While it was a nuisance and an inconvenience at first, the temperatures in my sister's and mother's homes dropped significantly with the cold.  Additionally, gas has become a precious commodity in New Jersey, making it difficult for them to drive anywhere for supplies.  I'm sure authorities would say they should've stocked up on tanks of gas and extra batteries (which they did to an extent) to be more prepared for the storm than they were, but again, this kind of crazy storm has never happened before.  The weathermen had cried wolf so many times that there was no way to know that they would actually get it right this time around.

I've kept in close contact with both my mother and my sister since Sandy blew over.  I offered to drive out with a bunch of gas-filled cans in my car, but Mom wouldn't allow it.  My older brother (who lives out of state) was awesome enough to offer the same and even suggested taking her back to his house until her town recovers.  However, I'm happy to report that Mom got her power back tonight.  I imagine the joy she felt must've been similar to that of the Emperor in Episode III of Star Wars when he screams his cheesily-delivered line of, "UNLIMITED POWER!!"

My other brother also has his power back, but as of this writing, my sister, aunt, and cousins are still waiting on theirs.  Hopefully it won't be too long, but state officials are estimating that total restoration won't be complete for 6-14 days. I'm optimistic that it will be faster than that, but this whole thing has been so unprecedented that there's really no previous experience from which conclusions can be drawn.

And what of the beach house, you ask?

Ever since Tuesday morning, Laura has been watching The Weather Channel and scouring the internet for any pictures or info.  Given that TWC has spent so much time reporting from Point Pleasant, we figured they might get a shot of the houses along the boardwalk at some point.  But no matter how much we watched, we couldn't seem to get a shot of what we were looking for.

Thankfully, Ward Realty, a company based right next to the boardwalk that handles a lot of the summer home rentals along the beach, was kind enough to walk up and down the streets and private walks, taking pictures until the battery in their camera died.  And guess what!

She's certainly seen better days, but there she is - alive and well.
When Laura showed me this picture, I loaded up Youtube and played Elton John's "I'm Still Standing."

I left a comment on this picture thanking them for posting it and saying that I hoped the owners had the resources to repair the damage.  Shortly thereafter, the new owner's son left a comment stating that they just had some minor work and that they planned to be up and running by next summer!  I was so thrilled/relieved to hear that.

Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky.  Here are more shots from that same street, courtesy of Ward Realty.

The building on the Ocean Avenue side of the walk.  This place has been everything from a convenience store to a pizza place in my lifetime.
The view down the court looking from Ocean Avenue toward the boardwalk.  Doesn't look good.

The south side.  Obviously, those were once fences that lined the main path to the boardwalk.

The north side.  You can see how badly the blue house was pushed from its foundation by the rushing ocean waters.
The house across from ours.  The comments on facebook say that the basement was flooded out but the house seems to be otherwise okay.
I believe that this house is the reason that our house fared so well.  It's size likely helped to redirect any larger surges of sand/water away.

I feel terrible for the owners of the blue house.  I can't imagine how it could not end up as a total loss.

The Frank Sinatra House lives!  For anyone who may not know, this house is famous for ALWAYS piping Frank Sinatra music through an outdoor sound system.

Ward Realty posted the full album of pictures to their facebook page, so if you'd like to see more of the damage throughout town (many homes were NOT as lucky), just "Like" them on facebook.

I've seen some comments online referring to how much people will miss Point Pleasant as though the town is gone forever, but there's no way it won't be rebuilt.  I'd be surprised if the boardwalk and Jenkinson's aren't up and running by Memorial Day 2013.

Seaside Heights, on the other hand, may take a bit longer.

Anyway, before I go to bed I just want to say one last thing.  Watching all of this unfold from a distance has put a new perspective on human suffering for me.  When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, I watched as many others did while people waved from rooftops hoping to be rescued from rising flood waters.  Then, as many others did, I flipped to the next channel from the comfort of my warm bed.  I felt bad for the victims, of course, but there was no direct connection.  I didn't know anyone there, and I'd never been to New Orleans.  Besides, what could I do other than donate money?  I thought feeling sympathy was enough.

This time, as Sandy rolled over the New Jersey shorelines, I felt much more connected and involved in what was going on.  Here I am sitting safely in Missouri watching the people around me go about their daily routines with not a cloud in the sky while millions of people fought for survival 900 miles to the east. And while my workplace always has the news on in the break room, no one seemed to care much about the horrific scenes of destruction taking place along the eastern seaboard.  They talked about basketball games, the World Series, weekend plans, and other mindless drivel.  Some even made jokes - jokes! - about how dumb it was to live near an ocean.

It made me understand the difference between sympathy and empathy.  It's easy to see something like Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese Earthquake, or the Joplin/Tuscaloosa tornadoes and not feel an emotional connection to the victims.  It's sad, but my brain doesn't really register the reality of what the victims are going through because I'm not personally invested in the outcome.  I feel bad, and I pray for their quick recovery, but it doesn't really hit home because I'm not worrying about any person or place in particular.  That's sympathy.

Empathy, however, comes when you can personally identify with someone or something being affected.  I want to be able to have empathy not just for the people and places I am familiar with, but for anyone who struggles, anyone who mourns, and anyone who perishes.  If my goal is really to help people learn to appreciate and love each other (and it is), then I need to be able to be the first to set that example.

I've been cold.  I've been selfish.  I've been heartless.  And it needs to change.  It must change.

It will change.

If you wish to donate to the relief efforts of Hurricane Sandy, you can do so by clicking this link: American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund

God bless each and every one of you affected by this storm.  My thoughts and prayers are with you all.


1 comment:

  1. I get what you’re saying, Kevin. It’s one thing to see and feel sorry for the victims who lost so much during the hurricane, but you wouldn’t get the depth of emotional trauma unless you experienced it yourself. Btw, it’s great to know that the hurricane left no visible damage in your beach house. Take care!

    Sharon Strock @ Storm Chamber®