Gawking at Sandy from cross country

I grew up in Monmouth County, NJ, and my parents are still there. I watched the weather with trepidation over the weekend, and then with growing horror through Monday. The photos that came in first thing Tuesday morning had me in tears.

Two things that really struck me this week:

A) Sometimes I think I am no different than I was 10 years ago, and sometimes I think the way I see the world has completely changed since I had J. This week has definitely been the latter. Imagining what it would be like to have to grab my child and evacuate ahead of the storm, or worse, unexpectedly have to protect/save him from flooding, is an absolutely terrifying thought, made all the more scary knowing that children are keen observers, and immediately can pick up on our worries. (A few weeks ago, I burst into tears about something, and J nearly started crying himself when he saw. His little eyebrows knitting up nearly made me laugh through my tears.) It’s one thing to worry about yourself, another thing entirely to know you’d do anything for our kids.

B) Not that this surprised me, but I was REALLY worried about my parents. (going from the younger generation to the older one!) During the storm, I worried that my work-a-holic father would insist on going to the office, endangering himself on the road in those tropical storm conditions. And of course, I worried about how my parents’ house and property would fare. My childhood home is far enough inland that it thankfully has escaped the brunt of the immediate damage, but now my parents are facing all the infrastructure problems. I think their water is fine, but no power for at least a week, so everything in their fridge is gone, they can’t cook anything, have no hot water, etc etc. My dad is surprisingly technologically savvy for his generation, and is tethering his laptop to his smartphone, but he gets barely any bandwidth. Even though the storm has passed, I am still calling them on a daily basis to check in, and pass on any useful information I can glean from various internet sources; what stores/restaurants/gas stations are open, what progress has been made on restoring power, how the water supply is doing, are they still under curfew, etc. Based on the information I gave them today, they ate their first hot meal in days (roast chicken and garlic bread from Sam’s Club), and it made me feel so good to know I could help them all the way from CA. At least I could directly help *someone*.


Since the vast majority of my friends and family are in NJ, I’ve kept fewer tabs on NYC, but the loss of research animals and samples at NYU was a real punch in my graduate student gut. Just today, I was going through my lab’s freezers, and tossed 3 years worth of material from a failed project into the trash. Even knowing that it was useless, and that I am still getting my Ph.D., it felt pretty terrible. I can’t even IMAGINE what it would be like to lose years worth of work that is actually going in some direction to a natural disaster. I can donate to the Red Cross all I like, but nothing I do can help in that particular situation (patient samples can’t be replaced, and I have no knockout mice to share… I’d bet that many of the strains were unique to the facility, and as such, wouldn’t be replaceable.)


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4 Responses to Gawking at Sandy from cross country

  1. As to “A”- Monday night I could not sleep for scenarios of how we would get our kids out if our place flooded. Would we try and save the dog too? Leave her behind and just save our kids?

    All kinds of upsetting scenarios ran through my head. I had to tell my husband to reassure me that we’d be fine.

    Since buying our home in March of 2011, we faced 2 hurricanes. In my entire life of living in the North East, I cannot remember a single hurricane that caused problems in NY.

    While my house isn’t in an area prone to flooding, I am less than a mile from the Hudson River. More importantly, I am less than a mile from the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. Fears of flooding are one thing. Fears of the local nuke plant flooding are another.

    It was painfully ironic (?) that just days after we closed on our house the tsunami hit Japan and the Fukushima disaster unfolded. It’s always in the back of my mind.

    I completely agree with you. Having children adds a whole new layer of anxiety. Anxiety that is especially acute when you are in the midst of a natural disaster.

    I’m glad your parents are safe and I hope they get their power back soon.

    • Likewise, we are in earthquake country here in CA, so the threat of THAT is always in the back of my mind. Thankfully, we live in an area with low probability of liquifaction, so all we can do is have our emergency supplies stocked up, strap our furniture to the walls (useful for baby proofing anyways), and have a clear emergency plan. If I let my mind sit on the possibilities, I would probably go hysterical.

  2. Having grown up in South Texas, hurricanes are a fact of life. I’ve heard stories all my life about animal rooms flooding in Houston universities or the entirety of an orchestra’s sheet music collection going under water. The whole losing transgenic animals thing didn’t make my stomach turn until I got to grad school though.

    One of the first things to blow my mind when I moved to Silicon Valley was how TALL the trees are. In TX, nothing grows that big with hurricanes and tornadoes flattening everything all the time. When sources recommend having emergency supplies for 3 days, that’s a real joke because it takes forever to restore civilization. I like hurricanes because you can see them coming from days away and if you have enough sense, you get the hell out of Dodge. However the earthquake risks out here seriously freak me out and those you don’t get warning for. From what I’ve read, this area is simply hosed if we get anything bigger that a 6 on the Richter scale.

    • Yeah I totally know what you mean, about earthquakes just being smack dab out of nowhere. It freaked me out when I moved to CA for college, but I didn’t feel a single tremble the entire 4 years I was at Tech. I’ve now felt one real one here in the bay area (5 years ago) but it was pretty mild. So it doesn’t really dominate my mind anymore.

      That said, they had an earthquake simulation room at the Cal Academy of Sciences this summer, which simulated the side to side motion of 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and the 1906 SF earthquake. Even without the up and down movement, it was really quite frightening, and it made a helluva impression.

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