With all the comforts of the First World, Hurricane Sandy downgraded the East Coast of America to a Third World status. Even worse, actually.
As I write these lines, my home is an ice box: chilly, dark and silent. The only sound coming out is the protesting beep from the cellphone announcing imminent death with its battery ready to die. Let it die, I say to myself. What’s the use of a cell phone when it does not work? The landline does not work; the television does not work; the internet does not work; the laptop does not work because its battery is down. The food in the freezer is thawing at the speed of lightning screaming out for urgent care. Chucking it out is the safest, unless one wants to invite food poisoning.
So, what does work? Thankfully, we still have hot water in our faucets and gas in our cooking range. Cooking and bathing are two activities that lift life a little.
Driving around town scouting for cafes like Starbucks that offer Wi-Fi or ‘hotspots’ where Wi-Fi is available consumes half the tank in the car. If the petrol finishes we are stranded. We are told petrol is available but is being rationed. The gas stations in our area are shut because the power is down. Minutes before we lost power on Monday evening when Hurricane Sandy made a landfall some miles away from where we live in New Jersey, we pulled up the garage door and got the car out. It’s electronically operated. Our neighbours did operate their garage doors: “you pull the string hanging in the garage. It will disable the electronic connection,” we were told. Having lived here for a decade, we still don’t know the ins and outs, to put it simply. For example, I habitually push the light switch down as we do in Pakistan. But in the US, it’s the reverse. When you want a bulb to come on, you push the light switch up!
When will power return? “It will be days before power lines are restored,” the officials had warned before the monster storm hit. I find this strange. In Pakistan if the power is down for more than 24 hours, one creates such a ruckus, making the fellow at the receiving end answering phones for the electric company feel like a heel.
The Americans don’t protest. They suffer in silence.
Natural calamities like Hurricane Sandy may not be common, still they strike, kill, and destroy leaving man and technology powerless. America can land a vehicle on Mars and monitor its movements as it roves the planet, but it cannot fix its power lines that fall easy when harsh wind comes calling.
Trees, old beautiful trees, gorgeous in summer and breathtaking in autumn with their leaves turning gold, crimson and amber, suddenly become man’s worst enemy. They crash on homes, roads, cars, people and electric lines. As I drive around, huge trees lie uprooted everywhere. Imagine it takes decades for them to reach their verdant glory; but seconds for them to fall and surrender to the might of the wind.
Americans are planners: they don’t move without their schedules. They are calendar-centric. “Let me check my calendar if I am free,” they say when you invite them for coffee 10 days in advance. They plan their vacations a year in advance and make their airline and hotel bookings accordingly. Their lives are programmed and run on a well-considered plan. I have always admired this habit, something we Pakistanis are not given to. We don’t like a daily, monthly or yearly schedule. We let life flow and live without a timeline or a timeframe. Why stress? We say. Take each day as it comes. Well, that too makes sense. What tomorrow brings, none knows.
Americans didn’t know that Hurricane Sandy would arrive a week before the presidential elections, washing with it all the elaborate planning, TV ads and last minute canvassing by Obama and Romney camps. President Obama had moved his ‘heavy artillery’ Bill Clinton to accompany him on a whirlwind tour of states crucial for his victory.
Fate had other plans.
Hardest hit are the TV channels that made millions during this year and would have piled up some more in the last one week when Obama and Romney’s final surge to bombard viewers would have occurred.
While Mitt Romney has blasted President Obama for a ‘big government’ Hurricane Sandy has proven Romney wrong. It is the government that has come to the rescue of its citizens facing widespread death, sickness and destruction. Rescue workers were on red alert and worked around the clock to respond to calls for help during this time.
The mayor of our town called us a day in advance announcing a shelter that had been set up, where we could go and seek refuge if our homes and lives were threatened. It’s called a ‘warming and charging’ station. People go to charge their cell phones or laptops or to warm themselves. We did visit the shelter and was amazed with its efficiency. Polite and smiling attendants met us, showed us the coffee and bagel stations, pointed to the electric outlets where we could charge our phones and laptops. The place was brimming with seniors. They seemed to be having a party. Warm, cozy and comfortable, some planned on checking in for good.
The shelter was later moved to a school auditorium where they had put up cots, pillows and blankets for people to spend the night.
The government is compassionate, kind and caring. It may not be able to restore power even long after it goes, but can extend all possible help should one be in need.
The rising death toll caused by catastrophic flooding and destruction of entire neighbourhoods, and billions of dollars in property damage is what Hurricane Sandy has left behind. It is being called the ‘Storm of the Century’ but floods, droughts, heat waves and storms are only expected to get worse: with every part of the world facing deadlier and costlier weather disasters, say weather pundits.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had endorsed President Obama as president for another four years because both believe in the effects of climate change. The billionaire mayor said that Hurricane Sandy had reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign and that as a result he was endorsing President Obama.
The president responded with a pledge: “He (Bloomberg) has my continued commitment that this country will stand by New York in its time of need. And New Yorkers have my word that we will recover, we will rebuild, and we will come back stronger.”