First Person: ‘Bunkered down, expecting the worst’

New Yorkers and Israelis have much in common. We are aggressive and pushy and fear almost nothing.

Submerged cars in  Hoboken, New Jersey Sandy flood 370 (R) (photo credit: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
Submerged cars in Hoboken, New Jersey Sandy flood 370 (R)
(photo credit: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
HARTFORD, Connecticut – Within a matter of hours, the many vibrant red, yellow and green leaves of a New England autumn were shredded from their trees in the worst winds and floods to hit the US Northeast.
We were given more than enough warning. The National Weather Service issued statements more than a week ago that a “Frankenstorm” monster would form out of Hurricane Sandy, which was slowly moving up the East Coast. That Sandy, which had created much havoc in the Caribbean, would integrate with a winter storm moving east across the US and was to be joined by a blast of frigid arctic air coming from the north.
New Yorkers and Israelis have much in common. We are aggressive and pushy and fear almost nothing. And so it went with the forecast of what was predicted to be the worst storm to slam the US.
But as weather forecasts and maps born from computer software became more and more accurate with every passing hour, many of us started to take heed.
Having been a victim of last year’s October ice storm, which crippled the American Northeast with early snow and ice, I began to prepare a checklist as if I were getting ready for IDF reserve duty.
First and foremost, to make sure all communications would be operative. I reactivated a second mobile phone with Verizon, the only company that got many of us through last year’s storms. For Internet, I reactivated a hot-spot mobile router so that once the electricity dropped, I could continue harassing my friends on Facebook and Twitter.
From digital to brick and mortars – I left my computer screens for long lines at gas stations to fill several red canisters with gas for the electric generator, which would feed our lights, refrigerator, oil burner and computers.
After living in Israel for over 25 years, preparing for emergencies becomes second nature.
After all, if we were not prepared, we simply would not survive.
As Sandy slowly crept up toward the New York and New Jersey coast, we made sure that our refrigerator and food closets were well stocked. Local news reporters were telling us that most would lose electricity for a few days to a few weeks. Then the governors of Connecticut and New York warned that we would be facing the “most catastrophic storm to ever hit the US.”
How does one respond to that? Were we talking about high winds of more than 100 miles per hour, rainfall of over 8 inches, over 2 feet of snow, sea levels of more than 14 feet above normal, and talking to Dorothy and Toto in the midst of swirling tornadoes?
As a journalist, I know how to find fact. To read between the lines. And in this case, it became clear that all of the weather forecasters were basing their knowledge on projected weather models that were proving to be very real. But it was where they sincerely stated, just a few times, that they could not fully predict where and how much damage this massive, historic storm would inflict upon us that provoked the most anxiety.
We were told to prepare. No different than getting ready for Katyusha rockets and Scud missiles, I taped up all of the windows.
Trimmed branches that were hanging over nearby power lines. Purchased the last hand-cranked Red Cross weather radio from Radio Shack. And made sure that the dog and cats had both food and toys.
Most important was the emergency food deliveries that friends and I make twice a week to homeless shelters in the Greater Hartford, Connecticut area. On Sunday night, we picked up six boxes and plastic bags of freshly made bread, bagels and pastries from a Panera store.
We made our rounds just hours before Frankenstorm started to rain on us. We distributed to police stations, fire departments, the National Guard (which had been called up for the storm) and two homeless shelters.
With our eyes glued to the TV and me scanning every local news site on the Net, we bunkered down, expecting the worst.
High winds began to shake all around us, howling outside as we drank coffee late into the night and assured our friends that we would be okay.
Being about 100 miles north of New York and the center of the storm provided very little comfort.
The weather people were telling us that the path of the storm was not relevant – that what was once a hurricane was now a winter storm which would only increase in power over a massive area from Boston to Washington.
If New York had problems, Philadelphia and Baltimore could not provide backup, as we were all in this together.
Whatever logistical support we did receive came from electric companies that had sent their crews from the Midwest.
Watching the hurricane batter New York and Long Island was a heartbreaking experience. The devastation that took place there reminded me of covering 9/11 at Ground Zero. One-third of Manhattan was and is now without electricity. Lower Manhattan – the financial district – is completely flooded, with water pouring mercilessly down into the subway stations.
A construction crane standing high over the city on 57th Street snapped, threatening 10 nearby buildings. NYU Hospital, whose back-up electric generators had given way, was being evacuated, with dozens of ambulances racing to and from.
Perhaps my good friend Gary Vanderwalde, who lives out on Long Island summed up the entire experience from his home in an SMS message: “Joel, sorry, can’t call you. No electricity. Saving battery. More than 5 feet of water in my basement. But we survived. We are New Yorkers. We will be OK.”
The writer, a native of New York who lives in Ra’anana, is an international journalist and a senior media and social media adviser who is a consultant for the IDF and the Foreign Ministry.