For Cranford New Jersey resident Ellen Travers Ramirez and her family, preparing for Hurricane Irene was rather mundane. She did the typical things: stocking up on water, making sure the sump pump was in working order, and filling up the car’s gas tank. She never thought that Irene would bring anything other than the normal mild water issues. Ellen and her family had been through this before, and had no reason to think this storm would be anything more than an inconvenience.
The storm hit Saturday, and raged through the night. The winds blew hard, but not the winds of over 100 miles per hour that were forecasted. The rain was another story. The rain poured down for hours at a rate never seen before. The sump pump ran all night long, struggling to keep up with the water. Ellen and her husband Pedro kept a close eye on the sump, grateful that that the power remained on.
Morning came and it seemed that the storm was passing. Ellen walked her dog, surveying the neighborhood. All seemed clear in the area.
Suddenly two men appeared, seeming frantic. Ellen approached them to see what was wrong. “Evacuate NOW, they told her. The water is coming!!” Although she did not know the men, they were not Cranford police or firemen, she could read in their faces that this was serious. Ellen quickly ran home to warn her family, and then to her neighbors’ homes, banging on doors to wake them and alert them to move their cars and get out quickly. The men came back, urging her to leave IMMEDIATELY! The power was out and the Rahway River had breached it’s levees and was quickly approaching the neighborhood.
Ellen raced to her next door neighbor’s home, yelling to the men ” I am not leaving without Louise!!” The men told Ellen to leave now and to call the authorities to put her neighbor on a list for evacuation. For Ellen, that wasn’t an option.
Louise is an elderly widow who has lived in her house for 61 years and Ellen knew that it would be difficult for her to evacuate her home, but she knew it would be worse to leave her behind. So she banged on the door until Louise appeared, panic stricken and half awake. Ellen grabbed her hands, “Louise, we have to leave right NOW! Pack an overnight bag, get dressed, and I will be right back to get you”. With that, Ellen ran back outside to gather her family and neighbors to coordinate the evacuation plan.
Returning in less than 5 minutes, Ellen found Louise was visibly shaking, and seemed paralyzed by her fear. Taking control, Ellen ran to the basement to grab Louise’s boots and saw the water had already risen to more than two feet high in the basement. Knowing time was of the essence, she hurried through the house. She saw the emergency medical card (Thanks to Kyle Shupp, a local Eagle Scout!) which had all of Louise’s emergency contacts and medications listed… a lifesaver!
Almost ready to leave, Ellen brought Louise upstairs to grab anything else she might need. Louise was visibly shaken. “I can’t, I can’t!!” Louise kept saying. “I can’t leave without my engagement ring and wedding band!!” Together the women looked and looked through the many little jewelry boxes and hiding places. No Ring. Ellen realized that this was a “now or never” moment. She could feel her own panic beginning to rise. She took a deep breath and reassured Louise. “Louise, we will not leave without your rings, I promise. My mother is looking down over us. She will protect us and help us. Let’s say a prayer”.
They did pray. And then, in a surreal moment, Louise reached over and grabbed a box. She flipped open the top and there they were! Her rings! She slipped them on her finger and hugged Ellen tightly. Together, the two women rushed to safety, bound by the things they would not leave behind. The flooding in Cranford was the worst ever. So much devastation, so much loss, but both women felt grateful for what they still had. For Ellen, that was her family, her friends, and Louise, her wonderful neighbor. For Louise, the gratitude was for the people who treasure her, and of course her engagement and wedding rings, the symbols of her history and her life with her one true love.