Hurricane Irene's Scron
‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and I definitely thought it applied to Hurricane Irene when she arrived in New Jersey. The news was tracking her, as she gathered speed hitting other states, making her way up North. No one was sure what she would do once she came, but the days leading up to it, I saw people’s “true colors” come out and it exploded into utter chaos.
Thursday afternoon, I clocked in at work and walked out to the registers to see lines of people waiting to check out. Their shopping carts were filled to the top with canned goods, frozen foods, bread, peanut butter, and other nonperishable foods. Plus food, I also saw candles, lighters, batteries, and flashlights. People were running around like chickens without heads, grabbing whatever they could; not caring if they had to push, shove, fight for one small item that they needed. Later on in the day, word spread around to the cashiers, that we no longer had batteries (C &D), flashlights, and bread. I had struck up a conversation with one customer, a young mother, from Manalapan. She stood about my height (5”7), tan skin, and wore a black tube dress and matching flip flops. Her blond hair was tied back into a ponytail, while I saw in her blue eyes, a little bit of fear. We talked about gathering supplies and not knowing what Irene had in store for us. After handing her last bag, I said “Watch, by Sunday nothing severe will happen and everything will be brought back”. She laughed, “Yeah we’ll see” she replied. By 9:30, I clocked out and was looking forward to going home. I came home; feeling exhausted and wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with the utter chaos again.
Friday, I returned to work and dealt with the most aggravating, nasty, and rudest customers. I was beginning to blame Irene from moods going from zero to sixty in a matter of a week. During one of my breaks, I noticed I had a missed called and voicemail from mom. I dialed my voicemail, put in my password and listened.
“Hey Jess its mom. I was wondering if you could pick up batteries and flashlights. I’ll talk to you later.” I laughed and erased the message. I immediately called her back.
“Hey Jess.” She said
“Are you insane?” I asked
“We got cleaned out of batteries and flashlights yesterday we have nothing left.”
“Yeah; if you had asked me yesterday I would’ve fought someone for them.”
“Don’t worry about it. We have candles and flashlights here. See you when you get home, bye.”
Around 9:00 PM, everything started to calm down, it began to get quiet, ‘Silence is golden…’ I thought. I began to clean up around the registers, gathering any items that customers had left in random places and bringing full carts of items not purchased to customer service. As I was bringing an empty cart over to the registers, I saw my friend Steph’s parents Jack and Lou. We spoke briefly, they told me Steph and her husband Dave, and roommate Todd, along with the puppies Shea and Sam, were going to stay with them Saturday and Sunday. Steph and Dave had bought their first house in Brick and being so close to the bay, they decided to evacuate; just in case Irene decided to cause some trouble. They left and I continued to clean up, but spent the last thirty minutes of my shift ringing up customers and left at 10pm. I walked in and collapsed onto my bed, I was running on ‘Empty’. I was happy that I had Saturday to recover, but also prepare for Irene’s arrival.
Saturday, it was raining pretty hard and winds had begun to pick up. I slept late and spent the day watching television, but also helped prepare for Irene. A box of candles, specifically for tornadoes, hurricanes, and blackouts was in the kitchen with a lighter beside it. Two flashlights were in Mom’s “Office” and I made sure everything from my IPod, cellphone, and Kindle were fully charged, just in case the power went out. At eleven o’clock we lost power, mom and I went downstairs and took out two candles, lit them, and put one in our bedrooms. Afterwards there wasn’t much to do, but try to sleep. Around two in the morning, my mom heard shouting from outside, at first she ignored it, thinking it was some local kids playing in the rain. At two thirty, she scared me out of sleep, shouting ‘What’s going on?’ At first I thought she was yelling at some kids, but when I heard her go downstairs and outside I knew something was up.
She came back inside, “What’s going on?” I asked.
“We’re being evacuated. Let’s get our suitcases out of the garage and start packing.”
We went into the garage, grabbing my blue and her purple suitcase. And so began the packing frenzy, putting in clothes, underwear, toiletries and whatever we could think of. I changed out of my pajamas, putting on a pair of jeans, t-shirt, black lace-up boots, and my Alpha Phi Omega pullover jacket. In the mist of packing, a neighbor, Alison knocked on our door.
“What’s up?” I asked
“We’re being evacuated. Make sure you packed a bag, move anything of value upstairs.” She began
“Anything of value is upstairs. Thanks Alison.”
Within ten minutes mom and I were packed and began waiting. Someone knocked on our door again, it was our next store neighbors Brian and his wife Robin. They came in and we talked. Brian stood about 6”0, muscular, brown eyes, and black hair with hints of gray. Robin was shorter, blond hair, green eyes, and heavy set.
“I never thought this would happen.” Mom commented
“Yeah, since we’re being evacuated, should we bring our cats?” Robin asked
“I don’t know.” I replied looking to Mom for an answer.
“I will not leave them behind. They’ve been fighting and we’ve been trying to get them to get along. After we took one to the vet, they’ve stopped getting along.”
“You pack for yourselves. And bring the cats with you. You have carriers for them?”
“Yeah we have carriers. This sucks.” Brian commented
They left and went back to pack a bag along with their cats. Mom and I went outside to wait. I looked, seeing our street and the houses across from us had become a river. Cars had become submerged and homes had begun to get flooded. Even the small island of trees was standing in water. The wind howled like a wolf does to a full moon and the rain was coming down hard. We saw firefighters, evacuating neighbors from their homes and bringing them across the river to our side. A neighbor walked up to me and mom. She was a young African American, dressed in an Oprah t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and pink shower cap over her head. She also carried a black garbage bag filled with clothes.
“Hey do you know where we’re being evacuated to?” She asked
“No. All we were told was to pack.” I replied
“Do you have an extra umbrella I could borrow?”
“Yeah; Jess go inside and grab an umbrella.”
I went inside and took an umbrella out from the downstairs closet. As I came back out, I handed the woman a large blue and white umbrella. We stood in silence, watching the water rise, and covering the tires of my car.
“I’m Lori by the way.” The woman extended her hand
“I’m Esther and this is my daughter Jess. It’s nice to meet you.” Mom replied
We all shook hands with each other.
“I never thought this would happen.” Lori sighed
“We didn’t think it would either.” I replied
“Anyway I’m going to see what’s going on. Thanks for the umbrella.”
“You’re welcome…” We said together
She walked off towards some firefighters who brought over a family from their home. Mom and I then locked the door to our house and went next store to Brian and Robin. We met them at their front door, bag and cats packed in their carriers. A volunteer firefighter, about my age walked up to us. She was about my height, brown hair sticking out from her fireman’s helmet, small face, and brown eyes.
“Are you all packed?” She asked
“Yes.” We replied
“Could you make your way over to the next to last house? We’re trying to keep everyone together. It’ll make it easier for the evacuation team.”
We began walking in between cars, across soaked lawns, to Alison’s house. Outside and inside, neighbors were waiting, there was one woman holding her cat beneath a towel and two men with their dogs on their leashes. Inside, I saw Alison running around her house seeing if anyone needed anything. She stood about 5’0, dark brown hair that was tied into a bun, tanned skin, brown eyes; she wore a giants t-shirt, black sweat pants, and sneakers.
“Does anyone need anything? Water?” She asked
“No thanks.” Everyone replied
Soon a group of firemen and police officers walked up to us. They ranged from ages twenty-five to early fifties. One was escorting our other neighbor Cathy; we thought she wasn’t home, when mom knocked on her door earlier, so we were relieved she was ok. She was short, short brown hair, blue eyes, dressed in a pair of blue sweat pants and green t-shirt.
“Hey everyone, my name is Joe and I’ll be your escort for the evening.” One began
‘Didn’t realize this was a formal event or I would’ve worn my gown…’ I thought
“Right now we’re just waiting for the truck and boat. We’re going to be taking you all to the club house to check-in and then to Cults Neck High School. So if everyone could stay here, that’d be great.”
Everyone nodded and within ten minutes, a white Ford pick-up truck pulled up, pulling a trailer with a boat on it. Everyone agreed that women and children should go first, which meant Alison and most of her family. Some of the officers carried the kids, while others helped cross the river to get onto the boat or into the truck. The other half, including me and mom waited for the second trip. The truck returned and we all made our way down to the river. As I stepped in, the water was freezing, my teeth began to chatter and a chill ran up my spine. An officer took my suitcase and put it on the boat, as I stepped on the trailer and climbed in. Once other neighbors, got onto the boat, I opened my umbrella and covered us all including my suitcase.
We didn’t even go half way up the street; we stopped near Brian and Robin’s house to see a school bus waiting for us. Everyone got onto the bus and we went to the club house. As the bus stopped in front of the small gray building, I looked over to see a bulldozer carrying people and their pets and a crowd of firefighters running around with E.M.Ts and policemen. Walking through the white glass door, the light brown carpet and white tiled floor was wet, while most of my neighbors sat on brown folding chairs. The same woman firefighter who helped us earlier, was asking people to sign in with names of people in the household, address, and contact number in case of an emergency. Once everyone was signed in, we walked out and back onto the school bus. We waited, since there were other people checking in and would be getting on the bus to the high school.
“So, your name is Julie?” Cathy asked the driver. He was an older man, average height and build, light brown mustache with hints of gray and light blue eyes; he was a volunteer firefighter.
“No, it’s Boris.”
“Well the sign says Ms. Julie. So I’m calling you Julie.” Cathy replied
I laughed since it lightened the mood a little bit. Everyone around me was shivering, as if we were leaving in the middle of a blizzard verses a hurricane. Soon more people got onto the bus, some with their dogs.
“Hang on to your pets!” Cathy said
“Yeah there are other dogs getting on.” I added
Five minutes passed and we were on our way to the high school. The route we took, didn’t look so bad, besides to huge puddles we drove through. We pulled into the high school parking lot and everything looked dark around the large cream colored building. Someone spotted the entrance and we all made our way off. Entering the hall, the Red Cross volunteers, had set up a table for everyone to sign in again. I sat down and signed in me and mom, and then we waited with a tall middle aged woman with short red hair, brown eyes, dressed in jeans and blue t-shirt with sneakers.
She handed us blankets and then escorted us to the auditorium. As we walked down the large hallway, we passed the gym. It was lined with cots and people sleeping, there were others set up in the hallways as we walked up three steps and into the auditorium. It was dimly lit with lights that were powered by a generator. There was a family set up in the right hand corner behind the center set of seats, and more sitting on both sides. Others were sleeping right in front of the stage on cots. Mom, Cathy, and I sat in the center row and put all our belongings down.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to find a bathroom and change out of my wet clothes.” I said.
“Go find a bathroom Jess.” Mom said
I walked out of the auditorium and saw the cafeteria with people sitting inside and volunteers handing out drinks and food. I walked to the hall we had come down and found the bathroom on my left. I turned around and went back to the auditorium to find mom and Cathy.
“I found it. It’s across from the cafeteria.” I said grabbing my suitcase
Cathy followed me, while mom stayed behind. We walked into the ladies room, to see one light in the small hallway before the stalls was on, but there was no light over the stalls. I wheeled my suitcase inside and put my cellphone on the counter by the sink. I put my suitcase next to me and opened it, pulling out an Alpha Phi Omega t-shirt I made, black sweat pants, and silver flip flops. At that moment I didn’t care who saw me changing, ‘We’re all women, nothing we haven’t seen before.’ Other women walked in, just as I walked into the first stall, it felt good to be out of those wet clothes. Once I finished, I gathered up my stuff.
“Cathy I’m heading back into the auditorium.” I called
“Ok.” She replied
I went back into the auditorium and put my wet clothes into the plastic bag my blanket came in.
“Don’t you want to change out of your wet clothes?” I asked looking over at mum
“Yeah, where’s the bathroom?” She replied
“C’mon I’ll show you.”
We walked back in, “Cathy you still in here?” I asked, “Yeah” she replied. Mom opened her suitcase and noticed that some of her clothes were wet.
“Must have been when they put my suitcase in the bed of the truck.” She commented as she took out a dry pair of pants.
Once she was changed, she looked around for something to put her wet clothes in. I noticed there was a janitors cart in the small hallway and found trash bags. We took a couple, and mum put her clothes into one. Cathy, Mom, and I went back into the auditorium, dropped off our wet clothes and went into the cafeteria for a late night snack. Mom had a cup of coffee; I had a peanut butter cookie. While we sat, Mom looked around and spotted someone she had met from her bereavement group. She walked over and started talking to her, while Cathy and I chatted with a neighbor I knew.
Later on we all went back to the auditorium to attempt to sleep. I took out my IPod and put on a movie soundtrack and leaned back in my seat to sleep. By the time I woke up, it was 8:00 A.M, but the minute I moved my back ached from the position I slept in. Looking around, I noticed a lot people stayed up. We sat talking and mom’s cell phone was constantly ringing; some of her friends were calling to see if she was alright. I texted my friends, but also tried to conserve my battery. Around 9:30, the Red Cross served breakfast, we all lined up outside the cafeteria waiting to be served. I had overheard from some of the volunteers, they originally were expecting 350 people, but instead there were at least one thousand. They really rationed out the cereal, fruit, granola bars, and milk for everyone. Once we got our food, we sat down and ate. I sat there feeling like a zombie and didn’t have much of an appetite. But I ate anyway.
“Remember, once you’re done, please leave so we can serve the next group of people.” A volunteer shouted.
We left after eating and went back into the auditorium. Someone had brought a radio and tuned into New Jersey 101.5. They were constantly giving weather and traffic updates. I tried to sleep, but instead I called work to let them know I wasn’t going to make it in. At 10:30, I noticed two families leaving; someone was coming to take them home. I also saw a cot wasn’t being used and I went over to lie down to sleep. As I was about to drift off, I heard mom call me.
“Jess…” She called
“Yeah…” I replied sitting up
“We’re going home.”
It was the best thing I heard all morning, one of Cathy’s relatives was coming to take us home. I packed all my belongings up and we made our way out. We checked out with the Red Cross volunteers and made our way outside. It was warm and quiet, “the storm is over” I heard someone say. I began to wonder what damage had Irene left behind as we got into the car to go home.
Pulling into the development from the first entrance, everything looked ok. As we turned onto our street, Irene had done some damage. Trees had been split in half or were uprooted from the ground and laid in people’s yards. When we pulled up in front of our house, the circle across from my house or “the square” was still flooded. Cars were submerged and the first floor of everyone’s house was flooded. It felt good to be home and I fell asleep in my bed, which was better than the auditorium. I woke up around 2:30 to see the power was back on, immediately I began charging my phone. I turned it on and began receiving at four text messages from my friends. Once I caught them up, I fell back asleep.
The next day, I called out of work, feeling exhausted from the night before. That afternoon I woke up to hear mom calling for me.
“Morning… what’s up?” I asked
“Get dressed and get going. You’re car got flooded and there’s still water in the backseats. Plus we have to see if it starts.” She began.
At that point I felt a little irritated; because I knew that it had to be done. I put on a pair of shorts and Nightmare Before Christmas t-shirt, along with black flip flops and sunglasses. And then I grabbed my IPod and speakers, pocketbook, and Kindle, thinking I’d make an escape to cool off for a while. As I walked outside and up to my car, I set up my IPod and docked in in my speakers and placed all my other stuff beside it. I went back inside and into the garage and took two large black garbage bags. When I went back outside, I cleaned out my car front, back, and trunk; all while blasting my Linkin Park play list, which I play when I’m angry.
Mom came outside with buckets and sponges, just as I put my car mats on the front lawn to dry.
“What are those bags?” She asked
“I cleaned out my car.” I replied putting my sunglasses on my head
“But you just came outside….”
“You also pissed me off and I put all that energy into cleaning. Weird concept huh?’ I thought to myself as she handed me a pair of gloves, bucket and sponge. We got into my car and began mopping up the water with our sponges. It took us a while, but it got done and I started my car to see the ‘Check Engine Light’ came on. Mom immediately went inside to call our mechanic at Good Year.
“We have to call triple A, to have it towed to Good Year. Mike said not to drive it, since we could risk losing the car.”
We called triple A and within the hour, we followed the tow truck to Good Year. A few minutes after my car went into their garage, everything was ok. I was low on two quarts of oil and the water caused the ‘Check Engine Light’ to go on. I was given instructions to spray ‘Lysol’ and park in sunny spots with the windows down.
Later on, the neighbors of my street came together. Our neighbor Alison invited everyone to her house for a barbeque. It was nice to see everyone together and saying, “If you need anything don’t hesitate to knock on our door.” So Irene’s scorn might have put our street under water and got us evacuated; it was an interesting way to meet the neighbors.