The next person who remarks that Hurricane-cum-Tropical-Storm Irene was over-hyped or who complains that those in authority went overboard with emergency preparations, you are hereby warned. Stay the heck away from me or I might have to smack you upside the head.
Some people just don’t know when to shut up and bless their good luck. Yes, it’s inconvenient to be evacuated. Yes, it’s a drag not be able to take a subway or train or plane when you want to. Yes, it’s a total bummer to wander down to the beach during wind gusts of 60 mph to watch the storm surge during high tide, and be turned back by a roadblock and a testy police officer. Pardon the heck out of anyone who is trying to save your life and avoid needless tragedy.
We’re all relieved that hundreds of people were not drowned or swept out to sea. But forty people, at last count, still died, from rising floodwaters or from being electrocuted by downed power lines or from the myriad other sorts of damage that Irene left in her wake. That’s forty families and groups of friends who grieve, whose lives will be forever changed, who will never take hurricanes and tropical storms lightly again, if they ever did in the first place.
Then there are the people who survived, but whose lives have been shattered by losing most or all of everything they own. How bad is ‘not-so-bad’? Just check out these photos of ‘Not So Bad’ Irene: Photos of Irene’s destructive force along the East Coast.
In little Rhode Island, it is estimated that 134,000 are still without electricity. That number was close to triple in Irene’s immediate aftermath, and included the office of the home care agency I work for until just this morning. As I’ve tried to contact my home care patients over the last few days, I can personally attest that hospitals, doctors’ offices and other healthcare providers are still, in many cases, operating without working landlines for office phones and faxes, that electronic medical records are still difficult or impossible to access, and that many roads are still impassable because of the number and large size of downed trees that have blocked streets, pulled down power lines and damaged buildings.
Some of our patients made it through Irene without structural damage to their homes, but still don’t have electricity. Some of them take medication that needs to be kept cold or use oxygen. For some of them, the power outage wasn’t a problem for the first few days, but as batteries run down and repairs proceed slowly, the power company estimates that electricity and phone lines may not be fully restored until this coming Labor Day weekend. So, some of them are now having to look for somewhere else to stay until then.
My colleagues and I are trying to see as many people as we can, while some of us are without power or have storm damage to our property or have to charge our cell phones in our cars in order to call them. I just had another of several conversations I’ve had with patients about negotiating an alternate route to their home to avoid the roads I usually take that are now inaccessible.
Nurses, CNA’s and others who work at nursing homes and hospitals are having to rearrange work schedules around who can get to work and who can’t. Pharmacies are trying to figure out how to get prescriptions to their patients. Some schools that were due to open are still without power, as are the homes of their faculty and students, and are having to reassess the date that classes may safely start. Even with power, school buses may not be able to get to certain streets to pick up children who need transportation. All of this rearranging is exhausting and time-consuming, and follows on the heels of the exhaustion and time we all spent preparing our homes and lives and work schedules before Irene hit.
Meanwhile, I have a 65′ tree in my yard. It wasn’t a very thick tree, thank goodness, but it broke off about 10′ from the ground in my neighbors’ yard, it’s broken end coming to rest on my back fence and extending to the gate by my driveway. I am grateful it did not fall on me, my car or my house. But now I am waiting while various parties try to figure out who is responsible for cutting it up and getting it out of there. It’s not going to be me, with my chronically sore, arthritic back and my miserable, radiation-fried right shoulder. And I don’t own a chain saw anyway. Initially, the landscape service for my neighbors left me a note offering to help. I called them back and left a message, but so far haven’t heard back from them. I haven’t gotten through to my homeowner’s insurance agent yet. The guy who installed and maintains my fence is a neighbor, but he’s also a firefighter, so he’s busy. And it’s still not clear who will pay for this clean-up. But it’s only a tree. It’s not blocking a road and my life is not in danger from its presence. I have electricity now. I can wait.
In the meantime, I was already tired and ached all over from cleaning gutters, and moving patio furniture, and putting the storm panels back in my screen doors, and making ice in case I lost power, and filling the washing machine basin so I could have water to flush the toilet, and hauling out the camp stove, propane and cooler, and clearing my downspouts, and getting batteries and groceries and gas in my car, and keeping my netbook and my work laptop and my cellphone fully charged. And that was all before Irene. Since Irene, I’ve been dealing with the aftermath. I’m very grateful that my neighbors along the beach were evacuated. I’m grateful that Irene’s hurricane status was downgraded by the time it got to Rhode Island. I’m horrified at the swath of flooding and destruction its flooding rains caused after it left here and moved northward and inland, wreaking havoc on my beloved Vermont, among other places. The photos at this link are from places I’ve loved and visited over the years. I’m glad it wasn’t ‘worse.’ Define ‘worse.’
When a hurricane doesn’t ‘live up to its advanced billing,’ we should all count our blessings. Emergency management is supposed to ere on the side of caution, not ‘convenience,’ else we have another Katrina mess on our hands. Folks who grumbled and whined about Irene being over-hyped should check out the photos at the links I’ve included, then grow the heck up, shut their gobs, and volunteer to help those for whom Irene was bad enough. How about I go rent a chainsaw — if there are any available — and you can help a cancer survivor get the fallen tree out of her yard? Since having cancer, I may get a little cranky, but I’m always glad to be alive.
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