This article first posted Sept. 1, 2011.
DISPATCH: August 31, 2:30 a.m.
There’s lots of things you learn (and remember) when a natural disaster strikes.
Here’s my list of lessons learned from Hurricane Irene:
- Willpower overshadows limitations and exhaustion.
- Determined labor is the best antidote to worry.
- Family and friends come through in a pinch when you need them the most.
- Strangers become friends.
- Old friends are just a phone call away.
- You can live a day (or two) without the Internet.
- A good Italian meal with lots of laughter around the dinner table is a great way to spend the eve before the storm.
- It is a wise decision to buy weather-proof boots.
- It doesn’t hurt to have a spare wet-vac.
- Lift with your legs.
- People need as much advice after the storm as they did before — and maybe even more — but it needs to be place-specific. (It’s crucial to know, for example, if your town collects curbside yard waste of any size without restrictions.)
- Not losing power is a blessing.
- It pays to have kept your trees trimmed (if you don’t, Mother Nature will do it for you).
- Surveying the damages to prioritize a plan is an essential first step.
- Preparation is stressful and cleanup is daunting, so permit yourself, if necessary, to go off for a moment to have a quiet, seconds-long breakdown that only you will witness. (Okay, yell, if you have to.)
- You can do a lot more, lift a lot more, than you ever thought you could (multi-tasking is essential).
- You buy peanut butter even though you don’t like it.
- Take it one step at a time; with every task accomplished, however small, you raise your level of confidence that all will be right again soon (even if it won’t be that soon).
- It’s weird to drive without traffic lights.
- Staying upbeat is half the battle, and it’s easier to do the more you take to the field.
- Laughter helps.
- Crickets and chainsaws at night make for an interesting sound combination.
- It’s humbling to know that for every hardship you endure someone has suffered more.
- There’s people out there who help more than they ask for help themselves.
For good measure (and for out-of-towners who returned to childhood homes to help out during the storm) here’s the most important lesson of all:
25. Yes, you can go home again — and especially when it matters the most.
DISPATCH: Aug. 30, 6 p.m.
Main street came to my street today in the late-afternoon hours as I collected branches, tree limbs, twigs and leaves for two collection spots on the front yard by the curb.
A mother and her daughter — with a huge dog named “Chewey” — stopped by to chat as joggers ran by and a skateboarder took advantage of the newly laid blacktop.
Then came the trio of men from the Town of Oyster Bay, in a chipper truck to collect my yard waste from Hurricane Irene.
I can honestly say that those five minutes we talked were among the best five minutes of this whole ordeal. They marveled that I had brought all that waste to the curbside myself, that a limb that took two men to lift and guide into the chipper was carried to the curb by yours truly, and I beamed with the praise and acknowledgment that I had done the job proud.
I thanked the men for their work and one of them answered: “I live in the Town of Oyster Bay myself so I feel like I’m helping my neighbors.” What a neat reminder as to what should be the overriding mission of government in the first place: to do service unto each other.
Dispatch: Aug. 30, 4 a.m.
It’s been another long day of clean up in Long Island, with picture-perfect skies and temperatures a welcome blessing for the task at hand.
The crickets are chirping and it’s deep into the post-midnight hours on Aug. 30 and it’s not hard to remember why your feet ache and every inch of your body cries out for a massage.
You have Irene to thank for that.
You think over the accomplishments of the day — in my case, that the floodlights are working again, the larger limbs have been moved to a central location, the banged in screen door has been fixed, the wet-vacs have been emptied and cleaned out and the sweeping and raking of yard debris is well under way.
I am thankful that my life in Florida has put me in good stead for the task at hand, even if there were times in advance of the storm — at the grocery store, drugstore and hardware store — I still struggled with decisions of what to buy in advance.
But I wasn’t in the dark, not like the woman I met at Trader Joe’s in Woodbury, who seemed lost over what she was doing there in the first place.
“Buying food for the hurricane, because they said I should,” she said, without much conviction.
I gently recommended that maybe she shouldn’t focus so much on the frozen foods and the foods that needed to be refrigerated — since she was buying food in anticipation that the power would be off for a few days — and that things like bread and peanut butter might be better choices.
“Thanks,” she said. “They never told me that!”
I could have told here that there would be lots more to learn in the days ahead, of what mattered most and what spirit she had to prevail, only I didn’t yet fully know that for myself.
Many times as a reporter I’ve covered hurricanes and hurricane preparedness. But I had never truly lived through one that affected me personally as much as Irene eventually would.
As I told the woman in Trader Joe’s, I most certainly will learn even more about the spirit to prevail in the days ahead.
DISPATCH — Aug. 29, 6 a.m.
(For pictures, “")
Earlier this year, I interviewed a woman outside Brandon, Florida, whose roof and garage and two family cars were taken out by a mature oak tree, uprooted from the yard of a neighbor who left his house in foreclosure.
Years earlier I interviewed a Valrico family living off Lithia Pinecrest Road on the Alafia River as their neighbors traveled the streets to their homes in canoes, the tops of their trees and roofs barely visible under the rising waters.
You leave stories like this richer for knowing the human spirit that prevails under such times of duress and you never forget the people who take their time — and trust you enough — to document their journeys.
You wonder, too, even over the years, how these people fared in the aftermath of the grand event itself and what you yourself would have done under the same trying circumstances.
Now, it’s my time to find out.
With my family in Long Island I anticipated and rode out Hurricane Irene, which left within its wake the cleanup under way.
It goes without saying that nothing comes close to the horror of loss that is being endured by the family members of the 16 people who died over the course of the three days it took Irene to storm through 16 states.
Thankful for life and limb, the rest of us survey and plan for our property losses and their incurring costs.
From where I sit in Long Island, I look out upon a lawn covered with lawn debris, including super-sized branches that alone would stand as large trees in and of themselves.
Can you mourn with, and for, the loss of a tree?
You can, when it was planted by your father more than five decades ago and it now stands absent one of the grandest limbs on one of the proudest pin oak trees you’ve ever set your eyes upon.
You can, when you see swaying in the wind a huge, towering pine tree that was one of the two trees your father planted for his daughters, promising to fall at the next strong gust of wind (only it doesn’t fall, and now you must contract a worker to get the job done).
I stood with that tree as the lesser winds howled through, hoping to capture on video its last proud moments, hearing myself telling that tree that I would be there for the end that never came.
We hope now for a quick end to the troubling details of orchestrating a massive cleanup, some of my island mates contending with floods, others with rain-soaked basements; some tackling much larger cleanups with power outages to boot.
At night, the sounds of summer are a mixture of crickets and chainsaws.
As soon as I could on the day the storm struck, Aug. 28, I drove into town to see for myself what happened beyond the confines of our address.
I traveled east, to the Nassau-Suffolk border, only to find the road slightly flooded under an overapass.
I then traveled west, where I saw huge trees broken, snapped into two or more pieces, and mammoth trees hanging on stressed — yet holding — power lines.
One lane of the two-lane road was carpeted with leaves and branches.
No store in town that I could see was open and the only vehicles on the road appeared to be cleanup workers and county officials surveying the damages, which was a good thing since no traffic lights were working.
When we return to our daily routines we will see a Long Island that has been forever changed; the name “Irene” will join the talk about “Gloria” and “Bob” as well as the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 and the Great Hurricane of 1938.
Today, it’s back to cleanup under incredibly bright skies and crisp, fresh air.
You could absolutely call it picture-perfect weather.
I’d thank you, Irene, but the price was high to pay.
DISPATCH — Aug. 28, 2:30 a.m.
It’s New York by sunrise for Hurricane Irene and I write these words with hours to go before the unwelcome visit.
That “extreme impacts” are expected has been hammered home.
So, too, the words “historic” and “epic."
Can’t go a broadcast without hearing the words “extraordinary threat."
So be it.
Those of us in New York have done our best to wrap our heads around this, to prep our homes, to stock our shelves, to make our peace with what promises to be a taxing ordeal.
My kid is in Brooklyn, I’m at Long Island’s Nassau-Suffolk border and I trust our two decades in Florida taught us something about taking heed and being prepared for the worst that’s yet to come.
We know, too, that up here it’s different.
Down south we’d hear the words “Category 1” and take down our guard. Up here, we’ve been told repeatedly NOT to lay down that guard. We’ve been told, essentially, to dismiss the ranking system altogether.
Hammered home instead is that this is the first time — ever — that mass transit has been shut down in New York City in advance of a storm.
That this is the first time, too, that New Yorkers have been mandated to evacuate.
Up here, it’s not about the categories. It’s about the rain, the trees, the overhead power lines, the saturated ground, the surge. Always the surge, and always the flooding that is expected.
I’m going to do downstairs and check the basement one more time before I step aside for one last look at the steady flow of rain with a steady beat of sound that is oddly both comforting and disconcerting at the same time.
Comforting, because it sounds just like a strong rainstorm, and we’ve all lived through those.
Disconcerting, because you know that his time it is different, this time, as one forecaster put it, Irene portends a storm unlike any we have ever seen before.
At this hour Irene is running up the coast and where she lands nobody knows for sure.
But, surely, she is coming.
DISPATCH — Aug. 27, 4:29 a.m.
I’ve learned something already, this Florida resident who was raised up north and has returned here in time for the wrath of Irene.
As editor of the Brandon Patch, and a longtime community journalist in the Greater Brandon area and beyond, I have written my good share of hurricane and hurricane preparedness stories.
I own a home in the Greater Brandon community of Valrico, and I’ve raised my kid here, so I know the importance of being ever-vigilant for a storm that threatens to strike — and especially so with a “Category 3 or higher” designation.
And I know as well that forecaster and reporter alike walk a fine line between warning people, and warning people too much, to the point that if the worst-case scenario doesn’t materialize this time around they just might not heed your concerns should it come to pass for real the next time.
I write this to you after midnight Aug. 27, a couple hours into the day that reportedly will go down in New York history as the day Irene tore through two islands — Manhattan and Long Island — with a fury that promises to be unprecedented in our lifetimes.
That’s pretty heady stuff.
I’ve learned this: That up here it matters much less the category (1, 2, 3 or higher) and much more the hurricane’s mass, size and surge . They don’t bury power lines up here and stately, mature trees rise from ground that is already over-saturated with summer rains.
Again, we’re on an island, as is Manhattan, and so lots of flooding is expected, so much so that New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia officials, by noon today, will shut down subways, buses, commuter trains and airports. High winds threaten to close bridges and roads as well. This ceasing of planes, trains and automobiles marks anunprecedented shutdown of mass transit systems.
As for now, though, it’s a beautiful night. I think I’ll take another walk around the house on this tree-lined, Plainview street. In short order I will become one of some 55 million people they say have been, and will be, affected by this historic hurricane, a nor’easter on speed, which promises mass, wind and surge of epic proportions.
As in Florida when such storms approach, as tracks are determined, debated and discussed, there are people who “doubt the hype” and question if all of this is too much about too little.
Here’s hoping that the naysayers have the last laugh and that the storm blows far, far away, but that does not appear to be even remotely likely. The official talk of the day has reminded me, as a Floridian, of the language forecasters reserve for the worst of storms, with no words minced.
So, I leave for you — and myself, this time — a very necessary list of hurricane do’s and don’t’s as I prepare to catch a short night’s rest.
Goodnight, Irene. I’ll see you in my dreams.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
Brandon Patch posted information about as part of its Florida Severe Weather Awareness Week coverage. The posting includes links to other weather events and to the hazardous weather background, tips and information posted by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the American Red Cross.
The Hurricane Preparedness Website offers extensive links and information about:
- Hurricane history,
- Hurricane hazards,
- Hurricane forecasts,
- Hurricane preapredness, and
- Actions to take to save lives as work and home and while on the road or in the water.