Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

I’m sure you are probably sick of all the moaning and groaning about hurricane Sandy. Trust me. I hear you. I was getting sick of my complaining too. I was screaming in my head, “Enough already! So I have no power or heat but what can I do? Whining about it won’t help!” Try calming yourself while screaming at the same time. It’s pathetic.

So instead of rehashing my harrowing seven days without electricity (there are so many worse off people in my region that it’s embarrassing for me to whine about my days without internet and heat), I thought I’d bestow a few lessons I learned from oh-so-wise Sandy. These lessons are in addition to the usual list of things you need for an emergency.

What I learned from Sandy

  1. If you live in an evacuation zone and were told to evacuate, EVACUATE! - there are countless stories of people who didn’t evacuate and either died or had to be rescued the next day. Nothing is important as your life or someone else’s life. Would you risk taking away someone’s life because you were holding out to save your belongings? Don’t ask those first responders to come and rescue you if you had a chance to flee earlier. Nothing I own is that important to me. I’d evacuate if my family’s lives depended on it.
  2. You think you are prepared for storms but you are never. really. prepared. Sure, the first day is novel and exciting (who wouldn’t like to eat and read by candlelight?) and second day is still cool to think of yourself as a pioneer and stay in “hunter gatherer” mode. But by the third day, you are cranky as all get out and trust me, you want nothing more than a hot shower and the internet, no matter how far off the grid you want to live. So be prepared. In fact, be over prepared because you never know how many days (or weeks) you’ll be without power. I lost power for just one week but there are others who are still without power on this 10th day, post Sandy.
  3. Do laundry before the storm so you have enough clean socks and underwear to last at least a week. What does your mom always say about wearing fresh undies when you leave the house, just in case you get hit by the bus and need to be rescued by EMT? You don’t want to be caught with dirty undies if you were in a “situation” during an emergency either. Besides, even if you can’t take a hot shower, if you change into clean undies, you’d feel a lot better.
  4. Don’t stock up on bread, milk, and eggs unless you are planning to have french toast 3 meals a day. But how can you cook anything without power? Besides, milk goes bad quickly, bread gets moldy and are you going to be Rocky and slurp raw eggs? Buy bagels instead of bread and freeze them. They’ll act as ice until they thaw out and they will be as good as new. If you have to buy milk, buy them in Tetra Paks. They can be stored in room temperature for a few days without spoiling. Buy cooked beans, tuna fish, and other proteins, also in Tetra Paks. And of course, a manual can opener.
  5. Don’t buy anything that takes “D” batteries. In times of emergency, “D” batteries are the first batteries to be sold out. If you are going to buy flashlights, buy LED flashlights that takes “AA” batteries. You can find that size easier and LED flashlights last longer and are brighter. Better yet, have rechargeable batteries that you can hook up to your car to recharge. Have some alkaline batteries on hand, just in case you can’t use the car. I had a hand cranked radio from Red Cross that didn’t need batteries and that saved battery consumption. It was our only connection to the outside world for a week. It was a God sent. My fingers were sore but my kids had fun cranking the darn thang.
  6. Get a portable gas tank (or two) filled with gas before the storm. This is a tricky one since storing gasoline can be dangerous. So don’t take my advice on this one. This is just my own mental note. But …while I hate to rely on gasoline at any time, in an emergency, gas is what you need to get out of harm’s way. If you can get a siphon, that’s great too. If gas lines in my area is any indication, gas will be scarce when power goes down. No electricity means no power to pump gas. And when ports are damaged and tankers can’t dock, as it was with Sandy, gas stations can’t get delivery. Some people are reporting 10-15 hour wait for gas. :( Hubby brought gas for someone at work and he was shoving $50 bills into his pocket for a mere 5 gallons of gas. Of course he refused but people are desperate for gas. Also, some gas stations only wanted cash, so yea, have cash on hand too, just in case ATM’s don’t work. You hear about these scenarios and you don’t think it’ll happen to you but it sure heck happened to us last week. It was surreal. Again, do this only if you feel comfortable about storing gas.
  7. Speaking of gas, have at least one diesel car. I know this is a tall order but in times of an emergency, having a car that takes a different type of gas can help a great deal. When there are gas stations with no “unleaded” gas or long lines for gas, even if they had unleaded gas, it helps to have an alternate option. We were able to fill up our diesel car with no problem when everyone was fighting to get unleaded gas. And it gets great gas mileage so we didn’t need to worry about running out of gas. I was curious about electric cars before we bought the diesel car but in NY, electric car is useless, even if there is electricity since electric rates are so high.
  8. Have a butane gas tabletop burner with enough cartridges. Even if you have gas stovetop, which we don’t, there is a chance the utility company can turn off the gas if there is gas leak. And during storms, anything can happen. At least with butane stovetop, you can make coffee and prepare small simple meals. Oh, and have a percolator if you are a coffee drinker. My neighbor has gas stove but had no percolator for coffee because they have the Single Cup Keurig machine that uses electricity. :(
  9. Stock up on plenty of healthy snacks that you can munch on. Being in the dark, during and after a storm is stressful and stress can make you want to eat, as the New York Times reports. So if you can help it, don’t eat junk, especially since you can’t burn it off because you are stuck in the house without power. I swear I think I gained 10 pounds since Sandy and I ate healthy! But I just ate, did the dishes, then, prepared for the next meal since I had to cook while it was still daylight. So without  my normal activity, I felt like I was constantly cooking, eating and cleaning. After about fifth day, I needed sweatpants.
  10. Buy a generator. Enough said.

There are more but I won’t bore you with them. But the biggest lesson of them all is this.

Climate change, global warming, extreme weather … are all REAL. They are all here to stay and WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

In fact, we have to do ALOT about it. We have to conserve, save, care, and reserve. We can’t bury our heads in the sand anymore. Would these natural disasters happen regardless whether we contribute to global warming? Possibly. Would they be this fierce? May be. But the fact is, we are contributing to the atmosphere getting warm and oceans to rise. We are contributing to the extreme weathers from happening more and more. We have to cut our consumption of fossil fuel and reduce carbon footprint. We have to cut carbon emission. We have to reduce natural resources consumption. We have to protect the environment. Simple.

Lastly, I want to leave you with these humbling images. I can’t upload the images because I didn’t get their permission but you can click the links and see them yourselves.

The Devastation

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) – these images were taken by teams of NOAA aviators flying above the disaster area at 5,000 feet before and after the storm. Bring the cursor across the images and you can see the devastation. Really sad to see communities wiped out, sand dunes gone, and inlets no longer. Our coastal lines are forever changed. And people’s home washed out to the sea or totally destroyed.

MSNBC.com – these up close and personal images of New Yorkers digging out of mud and sand broke my heart. Boats on lawns, submerged cars, furniture strewn about, roofs blown, trees down, boardwalks destroyed…

Treehugger – this was a great story of communities helping each other and coming together to support those in need. This personal account of a newly transplanted New Yorker biked 16 miles in each direction to help those in need in The Rockaways Queens, NY and lived to tell about it. People and organizations like Rockaway Surf Club and Affinity Cycles make me proud to be a New Yorker.

How to help

  • Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund – managed by the wife of Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie
  • Occupy Sandy Relief – coordinated relief effort by multi organizations with various drop off locations for supplies and donations throughout the tri-state area. A list of items needed are on the site with a link to Amazon’s registry where you can buy and donate items towards their efforts. It also has a form you can fill out to physically volunteer. Very well organized site for volunteering and sending supplies.
  • List of places to help and donate can also be found  here. You can send money, supplies, or volunteer. Whatever you can do will be helpful.

Here are some images from my immediate neighborhood and as you can see, we were spared. While number of trees that went down and made our main road impassable for a day, we were lucky. We still have our houses and no one got hurt. And while living without electricity for a week proved to be challenging, I can’t help but to be humble. So many others have it worse.

Impassable and blocked roads were everywhere.

sandy's aftermath

Trees are on top of where my little ole veggie garden used to be on the left.

 Leaves were everywhere but no damage to the houses. Neighbors checking out the scene, the morning after. I guess the guy with coffee has a generator.

the day after Sandy

Then, to make matters worse, we were hit with a Nor’easter yesterday and we woke up with 6″ of snow this morning. But we didn’t lose power. Thank Goodness. I feel for those without power and heat in this cold weather.

Nor'easter

On a final note, Climate Reality project will start at 8PM on November 14th and end with Al Gore’s speech the next evening at 7PM in NYC. Ironically, this annual global event is taking place in the epicenter of the latest climate related weather phenomenon. The event will host numerous panelists and discussions all over the world and highlight the dangers of what our planet has become, how we’ve contributed to the changes and what we must to do to make it better.

As I type this in my warm house, my thoughts go out to all those who are left homeless in my state. I will do whatever I can to help those in need and I hope you will too.

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