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Hurricane Sandy: A Personal Reflection

One year ago today, I sat bundled up with my 1-year-old daughter in a dark Jersey City, New Jersey apartment, and still felt cold despite two layers of insulated clothing underneath my winter coat and a down blanket. There was no heat, electricity, or cell phone service after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Eastern Shore.

The super storm flooded cities, knocked out power and hit people living in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut the hardest.

But I actually had it easy.

My husband was out waiting in a gasoline line that wound down the street and around the corner. We didn’t know if we would have to hop in the car and try to make it to a hotel in Pennsylvania, so we were taking precautions. He had left the house at 4 a.m. to get in line. By 4 p.m. he wasn’t back yet. The tankers that were supposed to come and distribute gas at 6 a.m. didn’t arrive on time. He was cold too, but couldn’t let the engine idle or he’d run down the gas. When he finally got home around 6 p.m., he still hadn’t gotten gas. The next day he waited in a line at the only grocery store with power, not to buy food, but to get access to a socket where he could recharge our laptops and cell phones. Later, he was lucky enough to buy a universal car charger with adapters. Afterward, we could charge everything in the car.

Although we could have prepared better, we had luxuries that some didn’t. For example, we had two flashlights, cooking gas and running water. We had stocked up on bottled water, a cooler filled with ice, jarred baby food, infant formula, dried food– like grits for breakfast and pasta or rice for dinner, and a little bit of meat that had stayed frozen in our freezer.

My neighbor capitalized on the tragedy. She had an old, in-the-wall phone line that worked and she charged our neighbors to use it, and also sold blankets, batteries, and water. She had a heater hooked up to a generator, where she let people charge phones.

To keep warm at my apartment we filled our biggest pots and pans to the top and let them boil as long as they could, hoping that they didn’t burn down to the bottom and ruin the pot—or worse start a fire or choke us with carbon monoxide– if we fell asleep for too long. We camped out on the bottom floor of our duplex because the heat didn’t rise to our beds upstairs. Between the boiling pots, nearly a dozen candles that we let burn in the early evenings so we wouldn’t trip over the furniture, and the inability to dial 911, I knew if a fire broke out, we would be goners.

We had entertainment, if only briefly, so we wouldn’t go stir crazy. I read to myself and my daughter while the daylight lasted. Every night we watched at least one DVD on the laptop, and we used the Iheartradio app on my old, cracked-screen HTC Evo to listen to NPR and get updates about what was going on in the world. I hadn’t yet downloaded the app to my new Samsung Galaxy S3, a birthday gift from a week ago.

We lived like this for almost seven days.

Throughout the entire situation, I felt extremely blessed. I knew things could have been worse. We only lost electricity, the contents of our refrigerator and the ability to post on Facebook (I actually got a few posts through by walking up my block and standing at a certain angle). But some people lost their cars, their homes or worse, their lives.

For example, after escaping the car, which was suddenly submerged by water, Staten Island resident, Glenda Moore held onto her sons, Connor and Brendan, for as long as she could but the turbulent flooding waters outlasted her grip. Their bodies were found three days later. They were among the 22 people killed during the storm.

Many who were hardest hit are still dealing with the repercussions. Even now, a full year later, and some $50 billion down the road there are many people who are refugees in their own cities. Brooklynite Nicole Adejumo is one. She was displaced after the nor’easter destroyed both her apartment and the salon she once ran, reports Al-Jazeera America. Now, she lives at the Kings hotel, but since New York City stopped paying for her room, the establishment wants her gone.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie appears in commercials with background musicians singing “We’re stronger than the Storm.” It boasts about the seeming success of the state’s recovery. Yet thousands of Garden State families have been shut out from Sandy rebuilding funds, claims the Fair Housing Center, which filed a lawsuit against the state. The suit alleges that the Christie administration has failed to make public the most basic documents explaining how it is determined who gets recovery money and who doesn’t.

Finally, a new law, enacted in 2012 for those who live in high-risk flood zones will eventually cost homeowners nearly a thousand dollars a month for insurance; an added expense that could cause them to lose what’s left of their homes.

Needless to say, Sandy, for me, was almost like a week’s vacation from work and an opportunity to spend time with my husband and daughter. We even went trick-or-treating. Once the lights came on, my life went back to normal. Unfortunately, many others will be living with the fallout for the rest of their lives.