Luck can be found on either side of Sandy.

We lost power last Monday along with most of our small city. The power mast was pulled off our house, some trees down, fence lines fell weak from water and age. But nothing compared to the shearing force that hit the south shore of our Long Island. We were just inconvenienced while others saw their homes, their history and heirlooms, their sense of security torn away from foundations both old and new. The images that started coming out of that part of the island the next morning were heartbreaking – in one a man stood on what was his porch while the skeletal remains of his house barely held up behind him. Others picked thru the sites where their houses once stood – one woman hung photos up to dry on a makeshift clothesline while another clutched children’s toys as another neighbor embraced her offering whatever warmth that could be found. An elderly man’s old SUV appeared stuck in a huge snowdrift – until you realized it was sand that had been pushed inland by the storm surge.

But for us, we were on the lucky side. With power out, we lived with some backup lanterns but replacement batteries were as hard to find as heat and electricity. Our in-laws shipped a dozen “D” cells to us since we didn’t know how long we would have to rely on these lamps. When was the last time you bought a “D” cell? As odd as it may sound, our newspaper was delivered to us every day, which became one of only two sources of news and local details. The other was a battery operated radio where we could pick up not only news channels but also the local cable broadcast letting us switch from regional to neighborhood.

The depth of the darkness at night was intimidating and with the curfew on travel, the only sound was the putting of the gas generators that some of our neighbors were lucky to get before all the store shelves and floors were cleaned out. The weather was mild for most of the week and we just piled up the blankets at night. A neighbor, whom I wasn’t really close with, rolled up with a wheelbarrow filled with firewood.  We all checked on each other, going door to door, as the week wore on.

Power and heat was restored this past Sunday night although our cable is still out. So no web access, no television, no land lines. No screens. I got what I could thru my Blackberry but we were essentially put back into the pre-computer age. At night, for the first time I can remember, we gathered in the living room, read books and newspapers by lantern light, and had some good conversation about everything but the weather. Occasionally we turned on the radio for any updates – I had the image of sitting around the old Philco back in the 1930’s.

With power and heat back, the search is on for fuel. Many of the service stations are dry and when one does get a delivery, the lines can stretch for hours. The distribution centers have been compromised by the storm and the panic that has set in makes the situation much worse. New Jersey has instituted odd-even days that bring me back to the first days of oil shock in the 1970’s. New York refuses staying ridiculously optimistic that things will calm down…eventually.

The storm was considered a category 1 hurricane and it showed how incredibly fragile and vulnerable our infrastructure and delivery systems are. I can’t imagine the damage and lasting confusion following a storm that much larger. Some conversation is being had about how to rebuild and what to rebuild. There’s even talk of revisiting the architecture once explored for a seawall surrounding downtown Manhattan. Only problem is that would put the other boroughs at greater risk for flooding and damage.

I have no doubt that a committee will be formed and a full investigation will be launched. Meanwhile the people persevere, cobble together their own survival systems, and hopefully understand how connected we need to be.

Life goes on.

Stay safe out there.

– Jeff

Essentials of a dark night…

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