State of Emergency

Hurricane Irene (National Weather Service) - post by Jessica

Yes, everyone is fine here. But that doesn’t mean it had to be that way.

In the days and hours leading up to Irene hitting New York City, no one knew exactly what would happen. From the other side, I learned a lot about my new city.

First, I’ve always been a weather person, so I figured something was going on around Thursday morning, when the Weather Channel and other websites were talking about Irene as possibly moving up the East Coast. As the day progressed, I sent Raif out to get a few supplies – mostly things we needed anyway, but also a few gallons of bottled water and a battery-operated radio. I realized that if power were cut off, we wouldn’t really have a lot of ways of getting information, except through our cellphones, and I was more interested in using those for calling family, if possible.

As it became clearer and clearer that Irene was heading our direction, the announcements started coming. First, NYU and Columbia postponing move-in day by a day (a logistical nightmare, I’m sure) and the cancellation of our New Student Retreat for my program. As Friday progressed, it seemed more and more likely that New York was going to get hit hard. The subway shutdown was something of a surprise, but they needed the higher ground tunnels to protect the trains that run on the lower level tracks and most of the train yards are on lower ground. We went grocery shopping on Friday, and I was really impressed with the other shoppers. Trader Joe’s was a madhouse, at one point closing the doors so they could catch up with the checkout line, but almost everyone was in a good mood despite the crowds and anxiety. I know it wasn’t the case at Fairway, but I was still impressed that it was the case anywhere!

We planned our Shabbat around the storm, making sure we weren’t going to be too far from home on Saturday. We did go for a little walk in Central Park, but it was incredibly humid and a little rainy, so we didn’t do much. I even looked up guidelines for surviving a hurricane on Shabbat. Once Shabbat was over, I checked in on the storm, reading and looking at the radar. As the storm approached, we watched the light rain and then the heavy rain, then the wind. I kept watch on Facebook and Twitter, to see what was going on in the other boroughs.

By morning, I was surprised to see that it wasn’t raining anymore, and a quick check of the radar proved that Irene had basically halved in size over night, which meant that what hit NYC was much less than it could have been. Still, Irene still had a lot of power left when she hit New England.

Luckily, Irene turned out to be a smaller storm than she could have been when she hit us, but that doesn’t mean that the preparations were wrong or even an overreaction. Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA took the idea of saving lives seriously, and thus evacuated people, closed subways and did what they needed to encourage people to stay home and stay inside. Perhaps if we hadn’t take Irene seriously, more would have ventured outside and would have been injured or even killed. Maybe if we hadn’t taken her seriously, it would have been more of a big deal. I, for one, am really glad that the city took it so seriously so that we saved lives. It was not a particularly convenient way to spend a weekend, and I am sure there are those who had plans for work or play seriously interrupted, but at the same time – we had no way of knowing that it’d be okay.

And now, we’ve weathered our first emergency in a new community, and I am glad we passed without much trouble. I must say though, I am not anxious to repeat the experience!

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