There shouldn’t be ocean there. That’s the solitary, bizarre thought that kept running through my mind as I clicked through online photo albums of Hurricane Sandy’s damage in the hours and days during and after its warpath through my hometown on Long Island.
The parkway I drove down countless times this summer to get to and from the beach used to be flanked on both sides by grass. Now, it isn’t even a road. One side of it is completely torn up, cracked in several directions with some parts jaggedly rising over a foot higher than others; the other half is now battered by waves from the flood tides that overtook the grass. There shouldn’t be ocean there.
That car also shouldn’t be floating. Because cars should not float in flooded streets less than a mile from my house while the National Guard looks on. Things like that just don’t happen on Long Island.
Except when they do. Right around the time that we got an e-mail from Harvard announcing the cancelation of Monday classes because of the storm, I got a phone call from my parents telling me that they had lost power and were turning off their cell phones to keep their charge as long as possible, since they didn’t expect to have electricity back for a while. They were both off from work the following day as well, and texted me periodic updates from the homefront: my aunt will need a new roof; power lines are down for over 800,000 Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) customers; the house I was born in, just a few towns, over is flooding; schools will be closed for the entire week; my mom’s co-worker’s car was destroyed; a tree fell through the fence and into my grandma’s backyard and sliced through the lining of her pool.
As disturbing and shocking as all of these alerts were -- as were all of the news articles, and all of the Facebook statuses from friends at home reporting on the damage to their homes, the closing of schools, and (an entire newsfeed’s worth of) updates on gas lines that winded for miles and what stations were best and worst -- it was somehow impossible for me to imagine the extent of the damage. I was here, safe in Kirkland House and simply thankful for the unexpected long weekend. Being so far removed from the destruction consuming the lives of my family and friends in New York, it simply just couldn't feel "real" to me.
And it didn’t feel real until I went home this past weekend. It was one of the first days of operational Long Island Railroad schedules, though trains were few and far between. Rather than taking the Babylon line to my house, I took the Huntington line to my grandmother’s, as my parents had opted to pack up some clothes and the contents of the fridge and spend time there rather than face their eleventh day without power (they had gotten it back briefly, only to lose it again when the nor’easter hit last Wednesday). We fortunately were able to return home on Friday evening with both electricity and gas heating restored, but over 200,000 others on the Island were not as lucky; protests taking place in Oceanside and Long Beach, now going on over two weeks without power, were televised all that day. To control gas lines, a ration system was established so that cars with license plates ending in even numbers could only purchase gas on even-numbered dates, and likewise for odd numbers. LIPA was criticized for its handling of the situation, and local officials called for the military to take over its managerial operations. Homes and businesses in areas with severe flooding need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis before power can be restored, so the process has been drawn-out for nearly three weeks now in the hardest-hit parts of Long Island. Many schools are still shut down and being used as shelters, power lines hang dangerously across busy intersections, and tree stumps taller than I am lie across lawns with their roots sprawled across residential streets. Waterfront houses have been obliterated, car dealerships were inundated with people replacing their damaged vehicles, and electricity, heat, food, and clean drinking water are no longer taken for granted.
This may all sound like old news; yes, Hurricane Sandy hit weeks ago. Yes, we are publishing this article now. Why? Because we are hundreds of miles away from Sandy’s destruction, we all have a lot going on, and it is disconcertingly easy to forget what’s going on out there, and that we are all very much a part of something larger than ourselves and our own happenings. We were lucky to be here during the storm, and to not have experienced the kinds of damage that New York City, Long Island, Staten Island, New Jersey, and other parts of the eastern seaboard have faced and continue to face. So many are still without power, still without their homes and possessions, and still in definite need of help.
The Harvard Red Cross is nearly halfway to its goal of raising $1000 to help relief efforts via Causes.com, and we would love for HC readers to help tip the scales! The fight against Sandy’s damage is nowhere near over, and every dollar counts. All donations are tax-deductible and go directly towards helping with provision of meals and supplies, maintenance of shelters, access to mental and physical health providers, and other relief efforts. Donations can be made online at: http://www.causes.com/actions/1699769. Consider donating clothes and supplies to ongoing relief efforts, and check in with people you know from affected areas to ask how their families and friends are doing. Just because the hurricane is over, doesn’t mean everything is back to normal -- keep that in mind, and keep those affected by Sandy in your thoughts, especially as the holiday season draws near.