Hurricane Sandy: Our Brush with the ‘New Normal’

Hurricane Sandy: Our Brush with the ‘New Normal’

Swimming yellow cabs

On October 29th, 2012 my wife, two children and I sat in the wake of a week’s worth of what I thought was media sensationalism, until we woke the next morning.

We live about thirty minutes north of Manhattan and were lucky to live in a building two bricks short of a fortress. Intermittent torrents of rain battered our windows and the wind clamped down with a deep howl as I sat writing on my laptop watching trees outside turn to rubber. There was a yelp from the other room. I ran to see my wife pointing at footage of a crane that had spun on its head now hanging stories above west 57th street. It was getting scary. That’s when our lights dipped and I could have sworn the entire building tilted, then righted, like a ship in a storm.

There was banging outside.

Debris slammed into cars, houses…people? The power dipped five more times but held steady. Newscasters continued to brave crushing wind as Hurricane Sandy swallowed shoreline on Long Island, the Jersey shore, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and so much more. A friend texted. She was in zone A having refused to leave lower Manhattan. The text read, “This is worse than 9/11”.

We tucked the kids in, away from the windows, and I went to bed with similar texts reporting darkness, flooding, fires and more. The news hawked the same, compounding the rising panic. Sleep was static as random crashes, bangs and sirens filled the night air. When we woke, we still had power as the wind continued to barrel through our town like a never ending bullet train. I looked outside and saw rows of trees snapped in half covering unlucky cars. On TV the gloom of Sandy’s wake showed images of scattered boats like toys in a tub; floating docks (one buckled up against Ellis Island at the foot of Lady Liberty); subways filled to the ceiling with salt water; and towns that looked as if, in one stroke, a great hand had wiped them into wreckage.

We ventured into our home village.

The silence was eerie as we drove into empty streets with every traffic light black. We came across our first casualty; an enormous oak had sunk into a home right through the second floor into the downstairs kitchen and living room. The owner’s, an elderly couple, stood in the middle of a crowd of neighbors, dumbstruck. The scene continued for miles.

Hurricane Sandy posed an enormous environmental impact on the northeast. NJ Environmental officials reported 336,000 gallons of spilled diesel fuel; 10 NYC treatment plants lost millions of gallons of partially treated sewage; an estimated 630 oil spills; and rows of idling cars waiting on gas lines for hours. However, the worst environmental impact was the more than 110 deaths including two children ripped from their mother in rushing waters while two others were crushed by a tree that fell into their bedroom.

Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the USA National Center for Atmospheric Research, suggested that Hurricane Sandy represents the “new normal”.

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