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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: My House Is Still Standing But My Home Has Been Destroyed, Part 2: Weathering the Storm

In a straight line, I live 18 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and the front of my house faces east. On Tuesday morning, the glass on our front storm door was white with salt from the ocean. It wasn't caked on, but the salt film made the glass cloudy.

Our power went out in a series of four brown-outs at 3:30 Monday afternoon. Earlier in the day we had taken a ride to the Barnegat Bay to get some pictures and generally feel the coming storm. In our area of the world, as I'm sure in most other areas, a good nor'easter or even the type of hurricanes we usually get is an invitation to get out to the beach and experience the storm. I have a healthy respect for the ocean, but I never feared it, and the Bay up north where I live is generally shallow in depth and narrow, and to be honest, we've weathered years and years of storms that were preceded by dire warnings of death and destruction, only to be followed by a run-of-the-mill coastal blow.

Link to fascinating before and after pictures of the New Jersey coastline.

This storm was anything but. It wasn't an unprecedented storm (more on that in coming columns), but if you can't remember 1944, it may have well have been.

By sunset, the wind was picking up, but according to my backyard weather station, winds were still well below gale force. There was some rain, but not a lot (locally, the total storm rain total was 2.74"). Cut off from news (we didn't own a battery powered radio) the conclusion we made was that this was just another storm. Through my cell phone I was able to keep up with Facebook and Twitter, and nothing dire seemed to be happening.

By 8:30 PM that all changed. Sustained winds were steady in the mid-40 to low-50 MPH range. This far from the ocean that is something I never experienced before. Gusts were in the low 70s.

This rather crappy cell-phone picture of the data from my weather station
shows the barometirc pressure bottoming out at 953mb just after 8:00 PM.
The blue line shows the peak wind gust of 82 MPH at the same time.
Hearing the pine trees around my house snapping like thunderous twigs, I ventured out around 9:00 PM to see how much of the house had been damaged. The next 3 minutes would be among the most frightening of my life. Having narrowly escaped death by automobile, gun shot and drowning, I'd like to think I have a good feel for when I'm safe and when I'm not. I walked twenty feet from my front porch to my driveway with the wind at my back. One gust buckled my knees and save for my truck that I grabbed onto, almost put me on the ground face first. The roar of the wind was louder than the freight train sound I'd heard about from tornado survivors so many times before. The gusts were phenomenal, and my little flashlight barely cut a path through the pitch black. Turning to go back in the house I was pelted with pine needles, chunks of wood and other things I wasn't able to identify. I made it back in, and sat at the kitchen table with my wife for the rest of the evening, waiting for whatever was to come next.

By 11:00 PM the storm was pretty much over, and that feeling of mild disappointment you get after a major traumatic expreience started to creep in. Don't get me wrong, I was in no way disappointed by the end of the storm, but my primal self, just like your primal self, is wired to shake my fist at having survived whatever it is I've just survived. Were our lives ever in any danger? Absolutely not, but I'd be a liar if I didn't honestly say that for 30 minutes on Tuesday night it felt like they were.

And we are 18 miles west of the shore.

Not being sure what had just gone on in the outside world, Tuesday morning we hopped in my pick-up truck and headed east to see what had gone on the night before--another living-at-the-shore ritual.

It became evident within miles that things were never going to be the same around here again.

Emergency crews cut enough of the fallen trees to allow one lane to pass.
In Brick Township, Tuesday, 10-30-12
On Route 88 in Brick, the traffic lights are gone, blown away by Sandy.

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