My thoughts and prayers are with the people of the greater Houston area as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Floridians with Irma. As the peak point of hurricane season roars on, it’s only fitting that I reflect on two of the more impactful hurriances I’ve survived – Gilbert and Sandy.
I was a child when Hurricane Gilbert struck (which dates me age wise a bit, but I digress). I’ll never forget during the front end of the storm hunkering down and watching my uncle secure the living room furniture with plastic tarp and raising the refrigerator off the ground. At the height of this segment of the storm, disaster struck and I listened as the roof flexed under the strain of battling the wind and rain. Then, the howling of the wind gave way to a buckling and groaning series of noises; I looked up to see the roof give way to be pulled straight up and literally swing to the right and into this white mist. As the rain poured into the house we trudged over next door and just chatted briefly and prayed that this roof would hold.
I remember as the eye of the hurriance passed, our neighbors pulled into our yard. They too had the roof ripped off their houses and for the rest of the night and throughout the second half of the storm, 11 people shared tight quarters in a small two bedroom half of a home. I didn’t get to see much of the devastation until a day after the storm cleared the island. Our carpet was ruined and I can remember my uncle cracking some line about a moon roof that evening as we looked up through the house at the stars.
“Superstorm” Sandy was a bit different. Having survived a borderline category 4 (technically one of the strongest ever category 3 storms at the time of impact), the lessons of my childhood kicked in. Sandy strength wise was a weakling, but in an area of the US with such bad topography, a solid hurricane could wipe NYC off the map. I think the two most stark memories for me was after Sandy happened trying to get to work and enduring the crazy shuttle bus lines during rush hour. I can recall the line of people who were anxious to resume work because bills needed to be paid, hurricane or no hurricane.
What also stood out to me was at one point lower Manhattan was without power. I remember being on that shuttle bus going through lower Manhattan and it was dead silence…no foot traffic, storefronts and buildings were eerily devoid of activity. And like the just position of affluence and poverty separated by the crossing of the street, when the bus hit the first block with power it was like regular NYC affair. I didn’t think that nothing could stand out more…but I was wrong.
A trip through unlit downtown Manhattan did the trick. I was trying to track down the old chess master out of concern and walking down Park Avenue South in veiled darkness was even more eerie than the bus ride. It didn’t get much better after I passed Union Square, Broadway was pretty dark – as dark as I remember strolling through the countryside of St. Elizabeth on summer nights as a child. You know, that kind of darkness where you only get to see ten feet in front of you and your flashlight gets swallowed in the light. The only difference here was that instead of being flanked by bushes on either side, unlit and unoccupied buildings provided the backdrop.
The worst parts of these events are the loss of life and the clean up efforts. Having to rebuild and replace things with meaning and function is back breaking. For those who have lost loved ones, it’s emotionally devastating. Hurricane devastation has a certain look to it that’s easily identified – I saw it as child
Yet, people survive and pull together and somehow find their way forward. That’s the thing about humans in the face of tragedy, they dig down deep and find a way through it. I encourage folks to help whoever they can – even it’s a word of prayer or a positive thought, it does make s difference. When in the eye of the storm, anything becomes a source of strength for perseverance.