Today is Sunday, November 4th, 2012, and the end of "daylight savings" time. We get to turn the clock back an hour, offering the illusion of having added an extra hour to our day. Extra hour of sleep, extra hour of productive work, extra hour of relaxation--however we prefer to spend it.
What a luxury, to be able to turn back time even for just an hour.
Today is also the 6th day since Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City, NJ, and the surrounding regions, including where I live in Northeastern Pennsylvania. My power came back on Friday afternoon but I'm still dealing with the aftermath of two downed trees on my property, both of which somehow missed my house. I only have a small electric chainsaw meant to trim branches, not bisect tree trunks, but I'll figure it out and muddle through it. I started cutting up the tree so now there's two thirds of a trunk and an assortment of logs and branches that need to be hauled away littering my front lawn. I have bags and bags of spoiled perishables that need to be disposed of. Yesterday I replaced some of the important items like milk and butter, spending money on items I already bought last week.
Last week feels like a year ago after being without power for a few days, not knowing when it would come back on, stumbling around in the dark, and heating water with a sterno can so we can have warm instant coffee to start our day. Worrying the crawlspace would overflow with water since the pump can't operate. Freezing in the house, sleeping under piles of blankets.
But these are minor nuisances in comparison to the people still without power, without homes to live in, without the company of loved ones who perished. People waiting hours on line with a water jug hoping to score enough gasoline to power their generator another day, keeping baby formula cold and a few lights on. Searching for a Laundromat to wash clothes. Avoiding accidents at intersections without lights amongst other distracted motorists paying more attention to finding an open gas station than the cars in front of them.
In the comfort of my home I can now peruse photos of Sandy's might and the havoc left behind. I am amazed that we live in the 21st century, yet we're crushed by Nature's impact, helpless against powerful winds and an ocean surge that exceeded the estimates of those who dubbed Sandy the "Frankenstorm."
What if we could turn back time to before the storm, like we turn back the clocks to adjust for daylight savings?
What could we do to change things? How far back would we need to go? Could we overhaul our power grid, bury cables, install taller, sturdier poles that would not be torn down by falling trees or branches? Could we add levees and sand barriers along our vulnerable shores to defy the surging ocean? Could we buy more generators, stockpile more fuel, trim more branches that eventually fell, blocking roads and preventing power crews from swooping in faster? Could we evacuate more people, even the ones who didn't want to leave, perhaps couldn't leave on their own, and are now dead when the harsh reality of ocean water reached out where ocean did not belong?
We knew Sandy was coming, we even knew it was going to hit harder than anything before it. Perhaps we hoped for the best, or perhaps there wasn't sufficient notice to mitigate Sandy's devastation. Perhaps much was done we aren't aware of that prevented things from being worse than they are.
My question is what are we going to do now to make sure we cannot be hurt like this again? When are we going to improve our electrical grid not only from a falling branch, but other vulnerabilities? We're running off of infrastructure that is decades old, if not older, that must be overhauled and replaced with 21st century materials and methods. Redundancy, flood mitigation, disaster preparedness, these are all solvable challenges.
I realize we cannot stop a hurricane, but we can shorten the pain we suffer after it passes, and we can do better to keep the ocean away from our homes. It takes time, money, and commitment, but we can do better, and we owe it to ourselves to start the process now.
I've heard it said that Sandy was a once in a lifetime event. Therefore, let's make sure when a storm of this magnitude strikes again in our children's adult lives, they don't suffer the way we have. To accomplish this, we must start now.
I want to thank Troy and Kieran for loaning me a generator that allowed me to operate my crawlspace pump, preventing a lot of damage to my home. I could not find a generator the morning after the hurricane no matter where I looked, and turned to my friends and neighbors for help. These special people answered my plea, brought the generator to my home with a tank of gas, and showed me how to use it. From the bottom of our hearts, my family and I thank you for your help.
To everyone hurt by this storm, I wish you a speedy return to normalcy, something I'm still struggling with mentally even as our daily routines settle down. Compared to my puny situation, I can only imagine how horrific this must be for those of you hit worse than I.
For everyone, including those not inconvenienced or impacted, please donate to the Red Cross or other organization to help the many lives uprooted by this disaster. Like Troy and Kieran, be good neighbors and pitch in.
Helping each other is the only power at our disposal we can exercise during times like these, and doesn't require time travel to show results.