Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts on Sandy: We Must Change Our Ways, NOW


I didn’t really think much about hurricane Sandy until I went grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon, October 28. The fact that Irene hadn’t hit Jersey City as bad as had been predicted meant little about Sandy. And I knew that. But still, how bad could it be? So I didn’t stock up on batteries, candles, and non-perishable food. Thus it’s a matter of luck that I had enough to get through four-and-a-half days without power.

Of course, I also had friends, June Jones in particular. A number of people met at her place for meals. She was cooking up a storm. Without power the food in her freezer would spoil quickly. She decided to cook it up and had her friends and family over.

Thanks, June!

And then there’s my friends at the Villain. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So I got home from shopping on Sunday afternoon and spent some more time on my Halloween costume: Trash Master. I was coming down the home stretch on it and figured it would be ready in plenty of time for the Halloween party we were throwing for the kids in the garden.

Did some more work on the costume on Monday and more this and that. Took some photos of wind whipping through the garden (see above) and planned my work for the rest of the week. Around 8:30 PM or so that evening the power flickered and then went out. But it came back in a minute or so. Every once in awhile I could feel the building shake. At 9:05 PM the power went out again, and didn’t come back.

Not to worry. I was ready for bed anyhow—I’m going to bed early these days, and getting up early, too, as always. I figured the power would be back when I woke up, or later that day.

I woke up Monday morning to darkness. I had some breakfast, grabbed my camera, and hit the streets by 6:45 AM. Very few lights were on anywhere. That was NOT a good sign, not good at all. Oh, some big buildings had lights on, buildings with generators no doubt. But mostly things were dark, in Jersey City AND in Manhattan.



But it wasn’t until I approached Liberty State Park near the marina that I began to sense the magnitude of the destruction. To some extent this was a matter of time, it takes time to absorb and internalize these things. But it was also a matter of evidence, more of it.

What was that barrier across the road, hadn’t that been 100 yards closer to the water? What’s that boat doing in the middle of the road? And how had that one made its way across the road to land in front of the science center?




Irene hadn’t done anything like this. If that’s what happened here, what happened elsewhere along the shore? This was a major disaster.


Power didn’t come back that day. With no power I could not, of course, do my normal writing and blogging. Nor could I upload my photos to my computer. I couldn’t even find out what was going on. No internet means no news—some people had battery-powered radios, I did not. The phones were dead, including cell phones.

Everyone else was in the same situation. No one knew anything about the world beyond reach of a shout, a short walk, or a handshake.

That evening I lit a candle.


* * * * *

I won’t go through a blow-by-blow account of what happened. For one thing, I can’t remember it all, nor did I keep a diary. Suffice it to say that things went reasonably well for me. The cold was inconvenient, as was the lack of light and hot water. But I didn’t lose any property and I DID have a bed at night, a bed made warm by a pile of blankets.

Many people were flooded out, just a few blocks from me. Many lost their cars. And, though my power came back at 9:33 AM on Saturday, some of my neighbors are still without power. And many are without food.

It’s clear that we weren’t prepared. Yes, the city government announced mandatory evacuations for certain areas on, I believe, Sunday afternoon. They feared that trouble was coming and they did take steps. But it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough. As my friend Tony put it, we’re not up to the emergency response standard of the third-world country he came from, El Salvador. For all our wealth, sophistication, and technology, on this matter, we’re not even a third-world country.

Not even a third-world country.

Again: Not even a third-world country.

All that technology is part of the problem. We’re too dependent on it. Who in their right mind would build a power grid that can bring down a city of a quarter of a million people by destroying only three transmission centers. It’s crazy.

But that’s the modern world we live in, full of large tightly coupled systems that bring wide-spread failure when small parts of the system go down. And, in this case, it was more than a few small parts that went down.

Our world is too big to survive. We’re a world of dinosaurs. All financed by those banks that are too big to fail.

We don’t need a war to nuke us back to the Stone Age. Our cumbersome systems are taking us there, and fast.

If all we do is rebuild, then we haven’t gotten the message. We have to rethink and restructure. We have to decouple and downsize. Otherwise we’re committing suicide by “civilization” and technology.

* * * * *

I hold no conventional religious belief. But I went to church yesterday, Sunday 4 November. The church down the block, Monumental Baptist Church, where many of my neighbors go. I had to be with my neighbors on that day on this occasion, surviving hurricane Sandy.

So far.

As I was raised in the Lutheran Church I know the rough compass of Christian liturgy. So I knew more or less what to expect—and I’d been to this particular church on two other occasions and a different neighborhood church on a third. But liturgical details vary widely from denomination to denomination and, indeed, from church to church in some denominations.

So I won’t attempt a detailed accounting of the service. Let’s just say that it was varied, with various deacons and preachers playing various roles. And that it was a satisfying experience. It hit the spot, so to speak.

I note that one woman—a deaconess? (she later introduced herself as Roberta)—connected the storm to global warming and noted that we have to change the way we organize our society. An entirely proper connection and a right-on observation.

Before the power went out I read that this was a once-in-a-hundred year event. No. That ship has sailed. The world has changed since those principles of estimation were formulated. Maybe it’s a once-in-fifty years event, or perhaps its only ten. We don’t know.

As the sister said, it WILL happen again, and we’re not ready.

The general tenor of the service was that God has shown His power, that He is in control, that He has given us a wake-up call. And that we should be grateful for this opportunity to experience His majesty and to show Him our love and devotion. We should be kind to one another and help one another.

All of which makes sense. Not the logical sense of the techno-world of power-grids and banks too big to fail. Not that kind of sense. Of that kind of sense we’ve had enough.


No, it makes sense in the deeply traditional ways of naked apes talking their way in an awesome world. A world of great danger and often stunning beauty. A world of trials and sorrow, but also of celebration and love. A world inviting us to live our lives in a new way.

Can we do so?


  1. Live every day with a shout, a short walk, and a handshake? Hmmm.
    And the lighting of a candle.

  2. Going on past stats 200 people will die of living in cold unheated accommodation each day in the U.K over winter due to fuel poverty.

    Been the case for a number of years and not the result of extreme weather, though that makes the situation worse.

    Government answer is too "shop around for better fuel deals"

    Banks can't be allowed to fail, 200 hundred elderly people per day are left to have hearts and respiratory systems fail.