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A Week to Remember: Returning to Normalcy Post-Hurricane Sandy

Part 1

After eight days without power, hot water and heat, I am happily returning to work today post-Hurricane Sandy. I feel guilty enjoying my 69-degree office and the ability to tap away at the computer keys as if this past week is already a distant memory when so many (including my parents and in-laws who are staying here tonight as temperatures dip into the 20s) are still without the comforts of home.

It was a week to remember indeed. Shortly after the storm first made it's angry appearance in our neighborhood early Monday evening, the lights swiftly went out while I washed the dinner dishes (they would remain extinguished for the next eight days--and eventually I boiled water to finish the dishes). I almost forgot how frightened my children would be. My husband and I had pretty much planned on this happening for days. Both my daughters (3 years old and 18 months respectively) cried out for me. Despite how prepared I was, I lost my breath and my heart raced with an inability to see them and comfort them while we fumbled for the flashlights that we strategically placed all over the home a few hours earlier.

Over the next hour, we settled into a new groove. Having a toddler meant that we explained why the lights were not on in many different ways, every few minutes, over and over again. We lit a candle and we talked about what we wanted for Christmas. (Who doesn't want to think about Christmas presents, I thought). We learned that my 3-year old wants a remote control airplane that she saw someone using in the park this past spring. This was a complete surprise to my husband and I and we sat and listened to the story of when she first saw one. 

It all was kind of "neat" until the winds really picked up. By 9:00 pm we tried to calm and wind-down everyone for sleep. To be honest, it was mom and dad who were having trouble preparing for sleeping through the storm. We placed the baby in the crib, toddler in a sleeping bag on our floor (she eventually moved to our bed)...and off to sleep we went. Ehh, not so much. We tried to drift off to sleep but the storm was at its peak during those bulk hours of evening sleep and the sounds of things slamming against the house was too much to take. One tree fell. We were rattled by some horrible crashing noises that ended up just being a neighbor's Rubbermaid storage tub slamming against our house. Finally when a large oak tree seemed to be unstably swaying towards the house and more specifically the bedroom in which we slept, we nervously and quickly moved the entire family downstairs.

We moved the coffee table and slept together on the living room floor for the rest of the night. A "sleepover" as our toddler described it. Luckily, as long as we were sleeping along side her, she was pleased as punch. The baby slept through the whole thing.

All night long my husband and I exchanged whispers of "are you awake?" "Did you hear that?!" And we alternated investigating the noises we heard and turning off electronic devices as they lost battery power throughout the night. I never really thought about how many devices we have in our home with battery back-up. Every time we fell asleep, as batteries died, one item after the other all night long would start beeping for attention and jolt us awake again. 

But all in all, we made it through the night unscathed. No home damage. And a loss of power and the one down tree in our backyard seemed to be the extent of our experience with Sandy.

Little did we imagine what the next week would hold for us...

Part 2

We never knew how bad the storm really was but through rumor and stories. It's funny, when you are in the disaster area yourself, you don't watch the news because you can't--you are completely cut off from everything. All you know is what is outside your front door, and you slowly try to cope with what unfolds. We would later learn of the extent of the damage to New Jersey and we accepted the fact that we would not be receiving relief for a while as all trucks, workers, etc. were quickly diverted to the hardest hit areas to the south of us. 

It was eerily quiet and dead outside. No one had power, the streets were quiet. And the typical bustle of work trucks removing trees and restoring power didn't come. For many days.

A slight feeling of panic did start to set in at times. We all tried to remain calm and patient. And I have to say, having to explain what was happening to my children, I think made us much more reasonable, calm and patient. "There are some people in another town that need help much more than us right now. All the men and the trucks are working really hard to help those people and when they are finished they will come here and help our family."

Without hot water to bathe and wash, without heat and temperatures dropping quickly, my in-laws secured a generator and took us in. We packed up the girls for two days and left our home. It took about an hour to travel the normally half-hour ride to Grandma and Grandpa's. We carefully followed detours and snaked our way from our home to theirs, gasping every so often and thanking God for the blessings we received, as many of the homes we passed did not fare so well. 

After those first two days, we realized this was going to be much longer than we anticipated. But we rallied! We returned to our home, now 50 degrees, and gathered more clothes and supplies.  At this point we realized that it was going to take a moving van to get us home when we finally left, but we made sure we had everything we needed for about seven days. We emptied our refrigerator for a final time and tried to save as much as possible. A large pork shoulder in the freezer was perfect for some pulled pork. My husband lugged the smoker down to the in-law's and a half a day later we fed 12 people plus leftovers for all. It was fabulous. It's funny how food becomes such a part of how we comfort ourselves in hard times. Gathering around the table--calling others without power to come have a shower and a meal--people do come together in crisis. 

The girls were great. Their routines were all disrupted, they slept in new and unusual places, they even went through a time change! They handled it all beautifully. During the 8 days following the storm, people came and went taking showers, breaking bread together, talking and laughing--and really not doing too much complaining.

Even as gas grew dangerously scarce, we remained calm and waited on the three-hour lines to secure the fuel we required to keep our little bed and breakfast in operation. A drive to Pennsylvania on our 5th day finally secured us with enough gas to keep us 12 hours ahead of our needs so we could slightly relax. Things continued as "usual" for several more days. The generator went on, we showered, we ate, we cleaned the yard, we helped our neighbors, we turned off the generator and went to sleep. We lost track of the day of the week and even the hour.

It all felt like a disaster movie. We just continued to be shocked by everything we saw. Everyday the gas lines were unimaginably longer, they pushed cars through the queues when drivers waited just a little too long to fill up, we moved to odd and even day fill-ups like during the gas crisis...we scrounged through dimly lit grocery stores for "dry goods only," and I was escourted through another store by a sales lady with a flashlight and a clipboard, noting the cost of items I was buying.

Then one day, as we knew would happen. Power was simply restored. Those men and those trucks, they did return like we promised my toddler they would. And while many still sit waiting patiently for their turn, portions of the State are now returning to normalcy. We are just now beginning to see the gravity of the storm damage to our State and we breathe sighs of relief for our homes and our families and say prayers for those who have it far worse. 

To top it all off, we even found time to elect a President. This will certainly be a week to remember for the rest of our lives, and I sure am glad that is the case. Because I never want us to forget what we learned during these few short (yes I said short) eight days.

Just a few things that I learned:

  • Always take baths on the eve of a storm! You never know how long it will be until your next one. 
  • Bake cookies. Lots of them.
  • Tell your family what to do when the lights go out, similar to how you teach them what to do in case of a fire. "Stay still and Mommy will find you and come to you." 
  • Remember to change the batteries all over the house after a long outage. All our smoke detectors etc. have exhausted their batteries and no longer chirp to remind us because it's been too long.
  • The TV, everyday routines, they all can keep you from truly spending time with your family. 
  • Don't be afraid to learn new things! I can start a generator now--it's not hard at all and not a big deal--but we should attack all new things with gusto because most of the time it's not as big of a deal as we make it to be.
  • Be a portable, flexible, positive person. It's easier to move on quickly when if you fall, you can bounce back.
  • We are stronger, more flexible, and more patient and kind than we ever realized, and we should stop saving those skills for only times of crisis.

Be safe all! For those in my State and others still without power, heat and hot water, our prayers are with you.