Just days prior to the storm, I scoffed when I was told that I should fill up my gas tank, or buy batteries and flashlights. “It’s not going to be that bad,” I thought, “We’ll just get a day of wind and rain, like every other time a ‘hurricane’ hits New Jersey.” I mocked the mouth-breathers when I saw the bread aisle in my local Shoprite the night before Sandy hit. “Maniacs, the lot of them,” I muttered aloud.
I wasn’t convinced that I had anything to worry about. American meteorologists predicted what seemed like a million possible paths the storm could take, but European models were nearly certain that the superstorm was going to take the Garden State for everything it had. But what did they know? They knew it all, apparently, as Sandy hung a sharp left and came barreling right toward us.
I was unprepared in every sense of the word. I had no gas in my car. I had a flashlight or two but no batteries. I hadn’t the wherewithal to physically protect from the elements my house that I had just purchased a few months earlier. All I had was a cocky sense of complacency that started giving way to a frightening reality. The day the storm started, I sat, watching Cowboys and Aliens, only to have the power cut out right in the middle of the movie. It flickered back on for a few minutes and then went out for good, not to be restored for a full ten days. I’ve always had a hard time putting inconveniences in perspective, particularly losing power, something for which I have precious little tolerance. People were losing their lives, and many more lost their homes, cars, memories, and contact with loved ones, so after the storm, I tried to watch who I complained to about not having electricity in my house for a week-and-a-half.
A couple hours after the electricity cut out, I sat in my car to charge my phone, and little by little as the wind became more forceful, my neighbor’s bushy tree that was rooted beside my driveway began to lean. I didn’t realize it until the tree uprooted, crushed the chain link fence between our yards and fell on top of my car. I was able to back out of the driveway, the tree barely held up by the damaged fence and the Verizon cable running from the utility pole across the street to my house.
Trying to sleep that night was an exercise in futility, as Sandy was bearing down on Jersey in full force. Listening to the howling wind, the driving rain, the sound of transformers blowing (those explosions gave the sky an eerie green glow that night) left and right made it nearly impossible to shut my mind off. It was only a matter of time before one of the trees in my backyard fell on top of the house, or a window shattered, or some other debris was flung at my old and ill-prepared home. Miraculously, when it was all over, there ended up not being a scratch that was not there before. Being less than a mile away from the bay, I expected the flood waters to be worse around my house. One of my roommates and I went out to Fischer Boulevard (a major thoroughfare that connects Hooper Avenue and Route 37 in Toms River) to gawk at the flood scene with the other gawkers. The waters rose and lifted boats off of their moorings at the marina, allowing them to drift, only to get stuck on the road when the waters receded once again.
The flood waters stopped just next door to my house.
The craziest uprooted tree I’ve ever seen.
I was incredibly lucky to be unharmed, and to have my house still standing. All-in-all, I had no power for ten days and lost hundreds of dollars worth of food, but in hindsight, it all could have been much worse. The last thing left in either the fridge or the freezer was the last of my bottle of the great Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo tequila.
To this day, I still feel awful for the people who lost so much, and are still waiting to get back into their homes. In general, I don’t like people very much, but after that I felt warmed by the sense of camaraderie that the denizens of New Jersey don’t normally extend to one another. I worked at Verizon Wireless at the time, and while the store in which I worked was shut down due to loss of power, I volunteered to work at a mobile station set up in the parking lot. The station, running on a generator, was reserved for people to charge up their phones, purchase chargers, and buy emergency phones if theirs were lost in the storm. It was bitterly cold outside the first couple days after the storm was over, but I bundled up and went out to help. Strangers hugged me when they were able to get in touch with loved ones they weren’t otherwise able to reach. Conversely, one customer physically assaulted one of my coworkers when he wasn’t given whatever it was that he wanted. Emotions ran high at both ends of the spectrum.
It was incredibly surreal to see the National Guard blocking off access to beaches, or to have to worry, even in passing, about looters roaming around the suburbs and looking for houses to rob. I had never seen such damage from a storm up close, and so close to home. I had never seen such a massive crisis, costing billions of dollars, years worth of repair and manpower, and the permanent removal of the safety that was previously felt here. It happened once, and it may very well happen again. Never again will I dismiss the warnings, never again will I be unprepared. New Jersey certainly made it through the storm, and rose again, if unsteadily. I can only hope that this state can be spared another trauma like this, to not have destroyed what has taken so much to rebuild.