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Hurricane Sandy: Can Any Warning Prepare You for One Hundred Mile an Hour Winds?

Hurricane Sandy: Can Any Warning Prepare You for One Hundred Mile an Hour Winds?

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Does the term “category 1 hurricane” mean anything if you’ve never experienced it?

We live in Western NJ about 6 miles from Pennsylvania. We began getting warnings about the hurricane last week. Friday night, October 26, we stopped in a grocery store after dinner. The shelves were stripped of bread.

We saw people filling gas cans at the gas station, and began to belatedly think about our generator and our supply of gas. On Saturday, I was able to locate a tractor supply store that had one gallon gas containers. My GPS took me to within 5 miles of the store and with the help of the store personnel, I found it 23 minutes before it closed for the day. The young clerk was astonished when I said I wanted 10 one gallon containers. The older, wiser clerk gave him a strong nonverbal message of “shut up” and cheerfully rang up my $213.00 purchase.  We filled both cars and all of the gas cans.

On Sunday night, we began getting anxious about our 28-year-old son, who lives with his cat at the end of a 1/5 mile long wooded driveway.

Our son’s driveway

We asked him to come stay with us, 40 minutes south of him. He replied, “I’m monitoring the situation.” My husband even played the old age card: “I need your help with the generator.” At 4 AM Monday, when the winds were picking up, our son realized it was time to come. He drove to our house through deserted streets, littered with branches. Two hours after he left his driveway, a tree fell at the entrance and trapped all of the other residents along the common driveway. Their wires went down too.

On Monday, we stayed home. We were watching TV when the power went out at 2 PM. The wind was in full force howling by the evening. It sounded like an angry locomotive whose engineer periodically hit the gas. There were sheets of rain and howling winds. We were cut off from the world except for intermittent cell phone service. No power, no phone service, no heat.

The winds had stopped by the morning, but a light rain fell. We emerged from our homes to look at the damage, and saw trees down on our property but none touching the house.

Trees down next to house

Roof shingles were lying on the deck and front lawn. We ventured further and found neighbors attacking the trees that had fallen across the road. Each person helped according to his or her abilities. Two guys used chain saws to cut the trees. One of our neighbors has heavy construction equipment so he was able to pick up huge chunks of trees in a claw like attachment and move them off the road. Adults and children picked up branches.

Our son moving branches

We all compared notes to see whose houses had been damaged. Some lost fences and parts of roofs, and many lost trees. In less than 2 hours, we had cleared our road.  We set up our generator and ran it for periods of 4 hours at a time, and then turned it off to stretch out the gas supply.

Our generator

Our generator runs the furnace, refrigerator, microwave, well pump and a few lights. We felt almost normal with those necessities. Our next door neighbor does not have a generator, and his wife was will with a fever and sore throat. We had our neighbors over for dinner and showers.

Our neighbor’s tree just missed two antique cars covered with grey tarps in center of picture

On Wednesday we heard that there was a road open to Flemington, where we work. In three areas, there were trees leaning on the wires, enough to block one lane but not both, of the road. It is a unique experience to drive through a tunnel of branches. We saw telephone poles split near the base and leaning at a crazy angle, trees that went through roofs of houses, giant trees lying on their sides, and the roof of a barn peeled back like a sardine can.

Our office has power and internet. It was easy to get mesmerized by the pictures of destruction – Point Pleasant, where I spent my childhood, Seaside Heights, Long Island, Staten Island, Manhattan…heavy snow in West Virginia. The images are astonishing.

On Thursday and Friday, it became clear that there were days and days of repair work to be done. We began seeing utility trucks. At night, the silence was broken by generators for those of us fortunate enough to have them. By Thursday, we took a look at our situation and realized we had 2 more days of gas left. The few gas stations that have power and gas in our area have one to two hour long waits for gas. A foot line of people carrying gas cans stretches in one direction from the pumps, while a line of cars stretches in the other. We began looking for a hotel by checking major chains. All were booked within a 100 mile radius. One hotel that had space cheerfully took my credit card but did not tell me they had no power. We found one hotel with power 30 miles away that had a room for four nights. There is a waiting list two pages long of people who want to extend their stay.

We left our gas, usable food and our generator with our neighbor on Friday morning and arrived at this hotel last night and took our first hot showers in 5 days. Our son and his cat slept in our office for 4 days and are now at our home, waiting for phone and internet to be restored at his house. Our power came back on Day 8.

What have we learned from this experience?

  • We’ve learned we had a tiny amount of deprivation compared to what other people have lost.
  • We’ve learned that the people who did not want to evacuate put rescuers in dangerous situations.
  • We’ve learned the importance of keeping enough gas on hand for the generator.
  • We’ve learned that it is not possible to siphon gas from all makes of cars. We could not get gas out of our tanks.
  • We learned how important it is to keep a generator in good shape at all times. Just by luck we had our generator services two weeks before the storm.
  • We’ve learned that there are propane fired generators that are far easier to manage than gas ones.
  • We’ve learned that it is virtually impossible to buy a generator, or gas cans, or batteries when everyone else needs them.
  • We’ve learned that it is a lot easier to pick up a one gallon gas can than a ten gallon one.
  • We’ve learned that time spent prior to a crisis getting to know your neighbors is a priceless gift.
  • We’ve learned that a group of people working together can accomplish extraordinary things.
  • We’ve learned that when your child is safe under your roof, it creates great parental peace of mind.
  • We’ve learned if you spot something you need in a crisis, buy it then because it will be gone if you wait.
  • We’ve learned that we take being able to buy gas for granted.
  • We’ve learned that it was a good thing we never acted on our fleeting thoughts of having a house at the Jersey Shore.
  • We’ve been reminded of the things we take for granted, and how fortunate we are.

Med League provides medical expert witnesses to trial lawyers. Please call us at (908)788-8227 or contact us today to discuss your next case.

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