by Connie Hand
Living in southern Florida, on a barrier island, I thought “Here we go again” when I heard in late October that tropical depression Sandy was heading to Florida and might be a major hurricane. I was worried.
I remembered how all of us had weathered the devastation and emotional trauma we suffered after hurricanes Frances on September 5 , 2004 and Jeanne on September 26, 2004. These events were almost unprecedented as they struck the same spot of Martin County, Florida, just weeks apart. I felt overwhelmed and fearful. My nerves were raw. I wondered if I would have a home to return to.
When we were allowed back on the island, we all pulled together and plowed through each day. We had no power, it was hot and humid, there were no food supplies, except what you had stocked, and people got around in canoes for several days because of the flooding.
Then the following year, in October, we were warned of another event called Wilma. I prayed it wouldn’t be as severe as the last two. We were evacuated and waited. Nerves were stretched thin. I remember it felt like days of waiting and holding my breath.
Wilma came barreling our way on October 19, 2005. She caused extensive damage. There was flooding, roads were washed out, we had no power, and homes and condos destroyed. After a period of total disbelief, I picked myself up and we all helped each other again as best we could, even though we felt vulnerable and fragile. We volunteered for clean-up. I felt more empowered each time I helped someone. There were many with much bigger problems than I. I knew that I was fortunate. We rebuilt and moved on.
So here it was October 22nd, 2012. We started to hear reports of a possible hurricane. I cried as I watched the news about islands that Sandy crashed into and devastated. I readied my condo and brought in supplies. Everyone I spoke to was anxious and worn out after several days of listening to the weather channel.
We heard on the news that Sandy would come ashore in Florida as a tropical depression. She arrived on October 26, and we got tropical force winds and less rain than they had predicted.There was damage to condos and homes directly on the beach and near the rivers, and some flooding. I was so relieved it wasn’t worse and I recall talking with neighbors who felt the same. We pitched in and cleaned up again.
And then we waited. Would Sandy be as good to the Jersey Shore, New York, and Pennsylvania, where most of us had property and homes? I was relieved to hear the news that relatives, neighbors, and friends were evacuated from beach towns and near lakes and rivers. The news reported that there would be high tide, huge amounts of water surges, winds, and rain.
On October 29, 2012 “Super Storm Sandy”, then a hurricane and a North Easter , smashed into shore in New Jersey, near Atlantic City, with enormous force. The wind and water obliterated everything in her path. The Jersey Shore as I had known it was no more. The devastation resembled a tornado, an earthquake, a huge hurricane, and a massive flood all in one. The problem was the area of destruction. The entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine was involved. Sandy especially unleashed her fury on New Jersey in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and in New York.
As I sat in Florida and watched the unbelievable footage on T.V. and on-line, I was stunned and tears ran down my face. I knew there were millions reacting the same way. I saw people without power. Many homes were flooded and destroyed and others were swept away. People lost everything they owned.
As the day wore on it became difficult to find out much about relatives and friends. I learned that most of the Jersey Shore was cut off from news sources. Finally, hours later, we could contact each other via texting. I always disliked texting as being too impersonal, but now I came to value this technology.
I had seen the terrible news on T.V. I didn’t know how much to relate to anyone. I didn’t want to shock them as they were already in a horrible place emotionally. When I spoke to each one, I was so relieved that they were O.K. (I felt donations to two of the great organizations that I had heard would make sure that the money and supplies went to the right places - The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities- would be of some help).
As the week went by, and the weather grew cold, more and more relatives and friends related the horrors of their living conditions and their homes: no power, insufficient gasoline for generators ( if they had one), and few remaining supplies. Many had NO home left. Some homes were condemned as structurally unsound and others were washed away. I couldn’t imagine the trauma they were experiencing.
More days passed and the police and the National Guard were protecting the towns. People were allowed back into a town if they had some form of proof that they lived there. Car lines were long. There was some looting but it was quickly taken care of by the police.
When I returned to the Jersey Shore in November, I felt shocked and couldn’t believe the widespread destruction.
Weeks later, most towns have been reopened but others have little access to their property as dangerous conditions are still a threat. The main clean-up continues to be a huge challenge, but New Jersey keeps working at it.
I keep thinking that just a while ago, we had these beautiful little towns like Ocean Grove, Avon, Belmar, and many others with their boardwalks and beaches.
They say it will take time just as it did in Florida. It will take time but everyone is determined to fix things up and get moving. Their spirit is so encouraging. There are so many volunteers and helpers in every little town.
I was fortunate to have had no severe damage to my homes but I realize how much many others suffered and are still suffering.
The way to get over this hollow feeling is to help out.
So, here I go...
Connie Hand was born and raised in New Jersey. She is a former educator. She has traveled extensively over the years and photographed her trips to many states in the U.S., to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Europe, and South America. Connie continues to travel and writes about her experiences. She lives in Florida and New Jersey with her husband, Jeff.