Mother Nature's Fury knows no boundaries
damage will remain long after the clean up
Two months ago my home town was beaten and tossed about by the fury of two storms colliding with a cold front at high tide on the night of a full moon. Many places could bear this type of storm, but an island that was already sporting a battered shoreline did not have the strength to handle such force. Our community was warned, but few were able to relocate, evacuate or take the warnings seriously since other storms had been hyped up by the media before this one and had failed to prove treacherous. Another issue was the problem of looting, which is one of the reasons we had loss of life. Many responses to this claim are " stuff can be replaced, lives cannot." True, however, if you are living pay check to pay check, "stuff" is not so easily replaced. In addition, those without family nearby did not want to take their children to a shelter and the elderly are not easily moved from their homes which comfort them. Some thought if they stayed they could save their homes from water damage since most of our storms are merely flooded basements, 2 feet at the most.
I have seen the faces of the survivors and spoken with many. I could never look them in the eye and say "you should have left." I find the judgments coming from others rather disappointing. We all say what we would do, but when you are in the situation, it is not always what it seems. Truth be told, even those who evacuated are haunted and discouraged by what they have faced in the aftermath. So few have received the aid promised that they are now in a state of disappointment and despair that their lives will never be what they once were. Honestly, they probably never will.
We all know that you can't go back. You cannot change the past, you cannot turn back the clock and do something different, you can only dust yourself off and move ahead. I have seen bravery by my fellow islanders, of all ages. A thirteen year old boy that my children know very well was faced with the task of rescuing his entire family from the rising flood waters. He rose to the challenge and fought through debris that stood between him and his loved ones. He singlehandedly yanked three people out of the tidal surge. He is a major hero. But he is also a boy who will remember those moments for the rest of his life. It isn't fair. My son spent some time with him and his family talking and laughing. Later on that night, my son lay awake in his bed for a long time thinking of what his friends experienced. Even though my son did not see the surge first hand, he has been profoundly affected by the hurricane. He was with us in the early days when we were finally able to leave our neighborhood which had suffered only damage from fallen trees and venture to our beach areas. He saw the devastation, he saw people's lives in a soggy, dirty pile on their front lawns and in the streets. He wanted to help and he did whenever he could.
We collected supplies and gifts for the families of our soccer league. Our children all helped us package over 40 gifts the Sunday before Christmas to give to children, some they had never met, but felt a closeness to them, carefully picking out what went in each bag, hoping to make these children smile. When the gifts were distributed, my husband, son and myself got to see how touched the families were by the generosity of others. Most of these people have not seen one dime of support by anyone except local volunteer groups who gave anything these people could want for, from the goodness of their hearts. Although this has all been heart wrenching, I am glad that my children could be part of this so they can understand how important it is to extend a hand to all who need it especially in times of crisis.
Through all of the sadness and hard work of so many, there is always those who say : "why do they live near the water? If you live near the water, this is what happens." On and on in those words. This does not solve anything. The homes are there, the people are there. They are what comes first. Why are they there? First of all, if your local government allows building in this area, why would anyone believe that someone they trust to care for them would knowingly put them in harm's way? Most would believe in their elected officials. It is a very common error in judgment, but quite understandable. Secondly, with the rising cost of homeownership and rental fees, one would look to provide as best as they could for their families. Many homes in these areas are very economical, near transportation and in close, tight knit communities. Mostly, the desire to be near water is over whelming for many people. I am one of those people.
I live at the top of a hill overlooking water. I sit and look out of my back windows all of the time enjoying the beauty of the view of the water. My place of employment is very close to the same body of water. I get to enjoy the ships passing by and the lovely view from work. I also find peace in a walk on our boardwalk, where the sound of the tides has lulled me into peace many days as I trek on. I love being near any body of water. I understand, I do not judge. They paid their flood insurance, it is just not working for them, or it is not enough. Looking down on them does not help.
The storm knew no boundaries. It ransacked homes in areas that were lower middle class, middle class and beautiful ocean side mansions. It ripped through schools, delis, stores and lovely water side restaurants. It devastated churches and athletic fields. It uprooted trees and smashed cars, tore holes in residents roofs. It took human life, those in their golden years, the middle age and the very young, there was no distinction as it barreled through and took our security and serenity.
My 10 year old was among the young ladies who earned money towards their 5th grade school trip. These students graciously donated the money to buy toys for their children who lost much to the super storm. She has told me that she feels our island and the New Jersey shore will never be the same again. She feels there is too much damage. She is quite gifted in science and states that the shores are too damaged to push back new storms. She is indeed correct. With nothing done to correct this problem since 1950, I doubt we will see any real action in the near future as well.
So as we try to clean up here, the damage will remain. It will remain in our hearts and minds. It will change all of us as a community. Some will change for the better, some for the worse, not much different than New York City post 9/11. My daughter was not born until 2002. For her, this is the first time she has seen such a tragedy occur in our midst. She is sadly now aware of the "time before, and the time after" affect such events have on our lives.
We personally, have suffered the loss of income through my employment that continues to experience issues stemming from the hurricane and my husband's secondary income. We lost power, which resulted in issues with our major appliances. These are small potatoes compared to the issues we have emotionally suffered knowing how close we came to losing many who were near and dear to us and lived through that harrowing night. The storm, the being trapped or rescued, the following issues with looting and those that would do them further harm. The lack of support from the government and the insurance companies. It's all like a bad dream that does not go away. Even with less under the tree this year, we were especially grateful our family members were still with us, with all they had experienced.
I have always relished the idea of living on an island. When most people think of islands, they think tropical vacations, but this one was our home, a place where we lived basically on our own even though we were part of a big city. My words came back to haunt me this storm. I often said to my students that one can only get to us by ferry and those four bridges, that if they were all suddenly shut down, we would be a place on our own. This happened to us during the hurricane We were a people cut off from the rest of the city. A true island. It was not a good feeling. The realization that in real crisis, no outside help could get to us, was staggering. The water is at all sides and it was our enemy that night. I have often thought of leaving the island since the storm. I feel as though I would rather be attached to more land than separated by water, the water I have loved my whole life.
We can only hope. Hope that someone, anyone will recognize the need to protect us properly. Acknowledge the damage years of over development have done to our wetlands and how our natural sponge has been damaged so deeply that it cost us human lives. Be accountable and admit failure to stop this instead of accepting the revenue it would all bring. Stand up and make an enormous change to the way we live here, a change that would add quality to our lives here on an island that until now was largely forgotten by most of the country. There are a few in charge, of course in our local government who are thinking this way. Here is to hope that they are heard.
We can hope that the seashores mend themselves and boardwalks are able to be rebuilt so that more generations can go and make some memories. Some of them were due for an make over anyway, so let's make it count. Let us take the lessons we have learned this time and do what needs to be done to insure that lives are not lost and severely altered again. Build security for our present and future generations.
We welcome the New Year as a time when circumstances will improve. Are we convinced? Probably not. Many of our neighbors are still waiting to see what will happen with their homes and winter is already dropping ice and snow on our already soggy coastline. All around our home, trees dropped the other night after surviving the major hurricane when we were socked with a massive rain storm. We are getting ready for snow tonight. It is hard to be optimistic while all around us there is terrible news. The horrendous school shooting in Connecticut, people being pushed to their death in subway stations, our economy in a dreadful state, about to get worse by leaders who cannot compromise and look out for all people, but instead fight to "get their way, no matter what the cost". It was hard to welcome Christmas and even harder to ring in the New Year, but we will. The scars will remain, but with any luck, we will end up stronger and safer than we were before.