I am a born and raised Jersey girl, living minutes from the boardwalks and beaches that were destroyed earlier this week in Hurricane Sandy’s wrath. I was fortunate enough to make it out of this storm with minimal damage to my home, but I am surrounded by destruction and despair, and have found out first hand that a disaster brings out the very best in people. And guess what? It also brings out the very worst. Never in my life have I witnessed a clearer divide.
The amount of volunteerism I have seen since the day after the storm has been incredible. The morning after the hurricane, I ventured out of my home and saw some of the aftermath of the storm in my neighborhood – uprooted trees blocking roads and crushing cars and homes, boats floating in my cross street from the nearby marina, and an almost total blackout, just to name a few. I was able to make it to a nearby diner running on a generator and witnessed something amazing. Reminiscent of some of my favorite family sitcoms, neighbors were gathering together, talking about how we’re all going to get through this, together. From there I went home and gathered some clothes, toiletries, and food to bring to my high school, which was already being used to shelter people who could not yet (or ever) return to their homes. That first day was sad, but it was also extremely heartwarming. There were so many people, some who had suffered great losses themselves, helping each other in so many ways. I was happy to see such good in people.
As the days went on, I realized that while this disaster may have given some a chance to let their goodness shine, it also brought out some monsters. By the second and third days post-storm, the looters started creeping. With lights out, alarm systems down, homes exposed and chaos ensuing, the lowest of the low started using this opportunity to steal from victims’ homes while they were taking refuge or out helping others. As I sit here writing this, there are policemen stationed at the end of my street checking IDs to keep these looters out.
Then there’s the gas issue. For some reason, I super prepared for this storm and filled up my gas tank the night before. This is something I will be doing from now on, because with the power out everywhere, open gas stations are few and far between, and the lines to get gas are hours long. This was causing desperation, and there were reports of people fist fighting and carrying guns while attempting to fuel up. Policemen are being put at gas stations to help with this problem. As the power is being restored and safety precautions are being taken, this problem seems to be fading, however it is scary to see what measures people will take when faced with emergency situations. In certain areas, the lines to get gas are still hours long.
By Friday, my mother got her power back and I was able to go there for a hot dinner and to watch The American Red Cross and NBCUniversal’s benefit telethon. Again, some faith was restored as I saw how quickly it was put together and listened to messages of inspiration from Staten Island native Christina Aguilera, Jersey boys Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, Long Island native Billy Joel, and others. I am hoping that this benefit, along with the several other charities I see coming together, are aiding those out there that still need so much help.
I have also, unfortunately, been a little saddened by those friends I have across the country who have yet to check in on me. As accessible as social media is these days, and with as much media attention as this storm received, there are a few people out there who I thought would have sent me a quick, “U OK?” I will not hold a grudge against them, but I have learned for the future to always reach out to friends when I hear of a disaster in their area. To know someone is thinking about you and cares can help, even just a little. (And a shout out to those who did make me feel loved by texting or calling or facebooking XOX).
From strangers offering each other places to shower and charge cell phones to strangers fighting arguing over the last quart of milk and batteries in the store, I have seen the good, the bad and the disgusting this week.
It is a week since Hurricane Sandy hit, and we on the east coast have a long road to recovery. I hope as the weeks and months go on, the good in humanity outweighs the bad. This was a huge learning and growing experience for me. Even though I was supposed to be out of state, part of me is happy my plans were postponed and I was in my hometown to go through it. I have always been one to donate and be saddened by natural disasters, but when it hits your home, it really hits home.
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