Friday, November 2, 2012

Mother Nature Sends a Message

And that message is that she's pissed.
Satellite image of Super Storm Sandy

Last night Lawrence O'Donnell was showing footage of residents of Staten Island more or less losing it because they felt they were being ignored, left isolated in their desolation in the wake of super storm Sandy.  At first I sat listening with my head half cocked, trying to decide if my primary emotion was sympathy or derision because, after all, exactly what they did they expect to happen only days after a storm of such enormity swept through 13 states (perhaps there is something to note here - that the storm hammered essentially the original colonies - but I'm not sure what it would be)?  Surely they didn't think someone was going to come snap some fingers and make it all go away.  But, at the same time, I could be empathetic to the swirl of emotion and fear that they had been living in for the last few days.  They were cold, dirty, scared, probably hungry, and cut off from all the things they normally rely on to get information.  The calendar just turned back to the wild, wild west days for these guys, so used to cell phones, television and internet.  Finally people show up with cameras in their faces, but no real help, and I think it boiled over.  I probably have a tad more insight than I would have at any other point in my life because of where we were during the storm.  Just the slightest hint of Sandy was plenty enough for me.  So, in the end analysis, I thought they were snapping under the pressure of an untenable situation which didn't help them get any warmer or their houses any less damaged, but I knew that it was a collective expulsion of the extreme pressure all these poor people had felt for what probably felt like forever.

I can't even begin to understand their devastation, but it was a few tense days even in Pittsburgh, so I can only speak to my own experience as the largest storm this area has ever seen passed through.  Maybe it'll give you some insight to those angry people on Staten Island if you, like me, wondered what they were thinking.

When I woke up this morning and peeked outside to gauge what to don to walk the dogs around the block, I saw the first hint of actual sky I've seen in days.  I could make out a small shining speck moving slowly across the sky - some plane well above us making an early morning haul to some unknown location.  It was a heavenly sight.  The clouds pressing down over the area for a solid week have been oppressive, even for someone like me who loves rainy weather.  There was even a little sunshine - maybe five minutes of sort of weak light and bluish skies before the clouds settled back in and the rain returned.  Maybe it's what made the week seem so very slow and long, but I think it's more complicated than that.

Tensions had begun to grow beginning on Monday.  We all knew the storm was coming, and we were all being told that it would be on a scale like the area had never seen, but of course that means no one can really envision it and therefore two camps develop:  those who freak out and those who underestimate it.  Greg certainly was in the latter, at least in terms of what he expected to hit here.  A lifelong Texan, he had been hearing dire warnings of hurricane impacts all the way up to Austin off and on for years.  It never happened.  Therefore, he was convinced that we were too far inland to really feel the impact.  I was leaning more toward the former, probably because I watch way too much post-apocalyptic television.  We were being told to prepare for high winds, likely to damage trees and threaten power.  I believed that part, since the power goes out around here with an amazing ease.  Of course, we had friends near Philadelphia, so that was worrying me too.  But, still, no matter what camp you fell into, it was still something in the future, a nebulous worry. Come Monday it became a little more real as Sandy neared landfall.  The skies became leaden, the shorts-wearing weather of the week before gave way to cold rain and the trees began to sway.  Local news reported that there were no generators to be had and batteries were flying off the shelves along with bottled water.  We were being advised to make sure our cell phones were charged.  Schools were closed for the following day and the state closed the liquor stores.  Generators?  Why, I wondered, would anyone need a generator?  I grew up in Montana during the 60's.  The power went out with great regularity and none of us had generators.  Of course, we all had fireplaces.  But, I definitely knew why people would want alcohol, and I figured closing the stores just would drive them out in the wind to the bars, which did not close.  But, they stayed closed for two days, so someone was pretty set on that being a good idea.

At any rate,  as the storm made landfall, its mighty reach began to extend inland towards us late on Monday.  There we sat, the skeptic and the believer on the couch together when the power flickered off, then back off again, and we looked at one another, illuminated by the light of my computer screen, suddenly cut off from my internet connection in mid keystroke.  I can't say what Greg was thinking, but I was wondering exactly how long it would take before our nice warm house got cold.  A few minutes later the power came back on and stayed on eventually, but I can tell you that I will be buying a generator as soon as I can.

As the week went on, the winds weren't nearly what they were predicted to be and the rain kept falling, but even the river levels didn't rise like we thought they might.  But all around us, nature was turning on its inhabitants as though it was intent to dispatch us back to wherever it was we came from.  The death toll in this state alone is standing at 14.  Fourteen souls who drew breath and had family who loved them.  It seemed incredible that we were being spared so completely.  So, come about Wednesday when it was clear that any real danger was past, there was a collective sigh of relief and only then could I really realize how tense I had been in the days before.  Then I could step back and realize all the normal crap that one faces in a workday (as I've always said, that's why they call it work instead of fun) seemed so heightened, and why the days seemed to be dragging.  It was a constant waiting game of wondering when the other shoe was going to drop, because it seemed almost impossible that it wasn't going to when there was so much destruction all around us.

Thus, at some point last night, as I watched those poor people on Staten Island, cold, hungry and scared, I realized that whatever we had worried over during the week was nothing compared to what others in our neighbor states are feeling at the moment.  So, long way around to saying to all of those people who are stranded now because of Sandy, it's cold, it's dark and it's frightening.  If you want to throw a little temper tantrum, you just go right ahead and do it.  Help is on its way.

From NBC News

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