I’m a Jersey girl, through and through, and while I’ve been in Oregon for eleven years, and the D.C. area before that, I’m still a Jersey girl. Born and raised there. My dad was raised there. My mom moved there when she was young. I grew up on a tree-lined street in the northern Jersey suburbs, taking trips into New York with my family, loving my town, my neighbors, my life there.
And my heart’s there now, hearing about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and then how a nor’easter is threatening the region today. A lot of the trees in my tree-lined suburb fell on houses during Sandy. Things aren’t back to normal and won’t be for a long while, especially for the hardest-hit communities. And especially with this snowstorm coming.
My Jersey friend Lisa wrote a long, newsy email on Nov. 3 about how things are, and she said I could share some of her thoughts on my blog. “The temperature is dropping into the 30s at night so folks are pretty cold,” she said. “Power restoration is incredibly slow and we’re getting estimates as late as the 9th. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the gas situation but between distribution problems and the number of gas stations without power the state is instituting ’70s style gas rationing–even numbered plates on even days, odds on odd days. The gas lines have been miles long–people waiting 5 and 6 hours only to be turned away because the station is out of gas once they get to the pump.”
It’s one thing to hear it on the news. Another thing to hear it from one of my very best friends, a fifth-grade friend, who was also a high school friend, and a college friend, and we still talk once a week by phone even though we’re 3,000 miles away.
I cried when I read her email. I haven’t felt this disconnected from my home–my friends, my neighbors–since 9/11, when I knew people who were suffering but I didn’t yet know who was dead, who was mourning friends or family, who was lucky and missed a train that morning that would have put her right under the Trade Towers at the wrong time.
Other than gas, supplies have been a problem due to the power outages. “Most grocery stores are dark so there is a run on perishables like milk at the places that do have power,” Lisa wrote on the 3rd, six days after Sandy hit. “A majority of stores and gas stations are cash only but ATMs have run out of cash. Grocery stores have been staying open for non-perishables with aisles dark and cash only registers.”
Lisa herself was lucky–she had power, no damage, but no heat.
She told me some people are acting really aggressive, with reports of looting and some really aggressive driving in areas where traffic lights were out.
“Despite all that there has been a lot of kindness,” she said. “People are setting up hot coffee and charging stations on their porches and in their businesses. Many are taking in friends and relatives. The Walgreens up the street has become a sort of storm zombie haven where all us cold, bored, and borderline insane powerless folks wander around, get warm, get supplies, and swap stories. I couldn’t get milk yesterday so I bought a bunch of liquid Coffeemate.”
My one Jersey Shore friend Summer saw more devastation than Lisa, but had a similar message. “Some have lost homes, cars, but that stuff is just a short term headache (a big one) but they’re alive. It’s amazing how much you take for granted, like street lights, being able to jug handle or make left turns. Getting somewhere quickly, getting gas quickly (the lines are ridiculous and the gas keeps running out). It feels like we’re living a version of that show on discovery channel, The Colony.”
Thankfully, her family house was safe.
A few days later, on Monday, which is when New Jersey’s trick-or-treating was rescheduled, Summer sent another update. She talked about how she’s using Facebook to centralize information about resources from municipal offices and websites to help people who are trying to cope with the aftermath. “People are losing patience with not being able to know/see if their island homes still exist. Now we’re supposed to get freezing temps and a nor’easter this week! For me, the beach is where I went when I needed to clear my head or after a bad day… I could really use it right now. That’s difficult. There are so many levels of loss… selfish loss, loss by people you care about, community loss, loss due to people/a loss due to violation (looting… happening a lot more than they are reporting). Short term.vs. long term loss. And then you meet people who have travelled across the country just to come here and help to bring people’s lives back. And then there’s the knock at your door… And you realize it’s Halloween (thankfully I had some hurricane rations of chocolate left!) And it almost feels normal… for a moment.”
Earlier this week, I also connected with another very dear middle and high school friend, Priya, who echoed the gas problems but from the perspective of a doctor who has to travel to different hospitals to visit her patients. A gas station near one hospital, Clara Maass, allowed doctors and nurses to cut the line for gas if they showed their IDs. By the time Priya got there, only premium was left, but she was able to fill up her tank so she could follow through with her rounds.
She also talked about people honking and being aggressive in gas lines, and someone got shot in a town near where I grew up. “People have been helpful, too,” Priya added. “There have been a lot of positive stories.”
Priya’s father lost his property on the Jersey Shore–it was on the boardwalk and just vanished during Sandy. But like Summer, her family was just glad nobody got hurt. “We can’t be more thankful,” Priya said. “Everybody has worse stories than we do.”