Things a hurricane makes you do

As I write, I sit in the comfort of my home. Watching it snow outside my window. Sheer luxury! White flakes in no hurry to touch the grass and turn the garden into a customised carpet, and drape a white curtain on cars.

Four weeks back, in the last week of October that is, I was splitting hair about how to get my husband worked up ahead of Sandy. So that he would finally buy emergency supplies. “Nothing will happen, don’t worry!”

Another remark, “Irene came and went. And nothing happened!”

My friends too complained that their spouses were being casual about it. Why were we wives worked up? We watched Weather channel! Forecasters cried hoarse not to treat it like Irene! This would spell disaster!

Soon, Facebook buzzed Sandy Sandy. News channels screamed Sandy this, Sandy that. ‘Stock up. Stock up. Get the torches. Buy canned food. Tank up your car…’ I fell for it. And why not? Husband rode with a neighbour and got supplies in. A crate of plastic-water bottles, flashlights and torches, bread, muffins, milk… and it’s still Saturday!

“Is Sandy some kind of a girlfriend or boyfriend? My friend posted an FB status: Waiting for Sandy,” rues my sister from Chennai.

“My power will be off. I won’t be able to call. But don’t worry,” I warn my dad.

Finish cleaning up home before Sandy. Do the laundry before Sandy. Finish blog posts and any pre-Sandy writing left to do. Finish the craft pieces you wanted to all along. Did we miss buying up something? Candles! Oh yes, candles. Hubby dear does not buy candles: “too expensive. Twelve dollars for one!” Oh My God! Sixty Indian rupees for a candle! Wish I were in India now!

Packed water is the most sought after product. And so are generators and lights. The beauty, with generators, some stores had a ‘no return’ policy. Solar garden lights that only had ornamental value till now, become hot.

As for the Obama vs Romney fight that’s kept us all busy till now, ‘Just forget them’, I tell myself. And switch to the Weather Channel that has the top TRPs halo glowing on it like floodlights in a sports stadium. With a zillion eye-balls hooked, not even Superbowl final can measure up. In our Indian context, let’s say World Cup cricket final. Twitter and FB are abuzz with election updates and Sandy alike.

And so is Romney’s by-now historic `binders of women’ comment.

Despite it being a gender neutral name, people assume Sandy is a `she’!

Monday afternoon: am down and out. Not from the howling winds and swaying trees outside, but watching news and weather updates, and racing with time to finish living life before Sandy.

‘Can this Sandy just not come and go soon, so we get on with life?’

We’re still watching the dangling crane on top of the under-construction One World Trade Center that’s turned a visual spectacle celebrated by TV channels, waiting for it to drop any minute.

News is in, that boardwalks in casino heaven Atlantic City and other beach cities have gone. What happens further…is scary. Even if we’re a neat 25 miles from the coast. Our apartment lights flicker. And are back. Ten minutes later, they flicker again. I panic. And switch my laptop off. Two minutes later – Power off. That’s it.

Tuesday morning: Winds gone. Rain, not much. Relief. Night is over. Relief. Tree outside, safe though battered…so are we. In the neighbouring garden, a tree got uprooted…and fell. Luckily, not on homes. Into the garden.

Our next contact with humanity: a neighbour knocks the common door that we share with folks downstairs. And tells us things are bad outside. His mobile is connected with radio. He has updates too. That’s when I realise. That my cellphone is not charged. Oops. And we did not buy a battery powered radio either!

The next 15 days are a crazy amusement park ride in the dark. Take a peek.

  • Employees eager to go to office. Not to work, but charge their mobile phones, with generators at work
  • Ditto with people’s trips to Walmart among other malls that got electricity instantly, or ran on generators
  • Walmarts turned day-shelters for adults and kids alike, with long queues of people charging their phones and their TVs and toys turning baby-sitters for kids
  • Apartment community offices conveniently shut. No one picks the phone up. No news of when the power will be back. Their website gives the power company number. If you don’t have power, you cannot check the website!
  • Restaurants that had to shut shop over the weekend make the most, with long lines of people who cannot cook at homes
  • As for petrol bunks (read gas stations), they have even longer lines, people desperately holding cans that are as precious as pearls by now. It’s gas rationing time
  • Kids in my neighbourhood do their Halloween trips to homes for candy, clueless about Sandy’s rampage elsewhere, and the governor’s request not to celebrate

You’ll love complete strangers for just being around, or watching other windows glow with flashlights and candles.

How to get your neighbour to open doors when you visit? Calling bell won’t work. So? My hubby and I flash lights into their home. After 10 minutes of non-stop flashing, we get lucky. They open their door.

An anecdote, courtesy my neighbour:

“I did not have power for a whole day!” says a woman to her friend at a mall. “And I won’t stop talking about my power woes if I begin,” mutters my neighbour within their earshot.

“Did you get back power?” becomes the conversation starter at malls, restaurants and offices. If one of the two people conversing got power back, watch the apologetic tone of the ‘powered’ and envious one of the ‘powerless’.

A week after Sandy: no power yet. We’re jealous of the neighbouring community that got power. We shiver in cold.

Hubby and I pay a bomb to ride a cab to Newark in Delaware that he must visit on some work, because trains are not running.

The cab radio is music to ears, after all the silence at home.

“The gas station guy said they had no gas. But I know he did,” complains a woman from one of the towns, calling the radio station up. “Go to South Jersey. That’s where the gas is,” the RJ advises dutifully.

“There are no lights, what to do,” that is another man calling.

“My wife is shouting at me…what to do”

What? Wife shouting at you and you broadcast it over radio!

“Why is she shouting at you?” asks the RJ.

“Because there are no lights.” Oh My God! I know not whether to laugh. Or to cry.

Another caller is helpful. She says her solar garden lights have come in handy these days. Thank God for some sense!

At Delaware, I check mail and Facebook for the first time in many days. And see what Sandy’s destruction has really been. Oh. My. God!

Inboxes full of worry queries from family and friends.

Images of coastal destruction speak volumes. No wonder! Am too overwhelmed to go active on Facebook again. I only reply to friends to say we’re fine.

In the middle of all this, is the online trend of fake Sandy pictures. Shark in storm water near home, waves crushing Statue of Liberty, eerie clouds over Manhattan…sigh! I got fooled too, and posted it on Facebook! Before Sandy hit.

Friends talk of looting in places where people left homes for safety. We hear things about curfew after 7 pm.

We check for gas cans in Delaware! They have vanished from Delaware gas stations too! People rode down all the way from NJ to pick up cans and tank up!

Back home when we return hoping power will be back the following day, it doesn’t. We’re still part of the eight million lot without power. And, must gear up for a snow-storm. Nor Easter. We’re shivering already!

Ten power-less days after Sandy, the apartment management wakes up, and sends a circular on available shelters for food, heat and some sleep. Most of these papers go to empty doorsteps.

Most neighbours have run away. We run away to a friend’s home where power is back. The elections took care of themselves. Obama won. Relief.

Thank God for great friends! We forget our woes for a while, play with their kids and accompanying a bunch in their neighbourhood for Halloween candies.

Power is back, 13 days after it went. And thankfully, before Diwali. But as if to mock at us, a transformer near home bursts on Diwali morning, giving us a half-day black-out.

Post Sandy remarks from friends and family: “Are you guys really in America?”

‘Back to stone ages?’, ‘India is so much better’, ‘May God grant you ‘power’…am still battling with thoughts…of the people who lost everything, people who lost families…

The one headline I loved in all the Sandy aftermath, is from Businessweek which read, “It’s global warming, Stupid”.

Radhika M B

Radhika M B

(Radhika M B is a journalist, blogger and crafter living in New Jersey, US. Over her 12-year span in the field of news writing, she has worked in print and internet – The New Indian Express, Tehelka, Techyolk and The Times of India. Her work in print has ranged from environmental reporting and human rights, to politics and lifestyle. An aspiring writer and avid blogger, she blogs at www.cerebraltoothbrush.com, http://sandbythesea.blogspot.com and www.imprintshandmade.blogspot.com. She is currently Consultant Editor with The Thumb Print. The Bangalorean has lived in Mumbai and Chennai besides in Delaware, US, before moving to New Jersey).