On August 27, 2011, the town of Cranford, NJ was hit hard by Hurricane Irene.
Unfortunately for me, during the storm and the week leading up to it, my husband was traveling for business in Australia and we were unable to communicate with him. This meant my children and I were on our own to prepare for and weather this powerful storm. Irene slammed our town, leaving enormous destruction in her wake. More than 1200 homes have severe flooding, many huge trees toppled, and power was lost for most of the town. The Rahway River breached it’s banks and turned our streets into raging waters. Having to have to experience this without my husband to protect us was terrible, but I did learn a lot.
Here are a few things I learned:
1. Being “over prepared” pays off.
In the days leading up to the storm I put my sons to work. We loaded every piece of outdoor furniture into the garage and stocked up on necessary items such as flashlights and batteries. I filled the truck up with gas and parked it near my front door in case we needed to get out. I also made sure to get cash from the bank in case the ATMs went down and refilled my son’s medication and got food for our pets. Knowing that we took these steps helped to ease my anxiety, and when we did lose power, I felt somewhat calm.
2. Listen to your instincts.
As a woman, I am always “over thinking” and worrying too much. Because my husband was not home to reassure me (or tell me I was being silly!), I just had to keep moving and do all the things I could think of for a “worst case scenario”. As the storm approached, I put our important documents into water proof containers, filled up zip-loc bags with water and froze them to keep the food cold if we lost power, and filled up the bath tubs with water for our pets to drink if that became necessary. I caught up on all the laundry and told my children that Governor Christie ordered mandatory showers for everyone (obviously not true, but those boys needed a bath!).
3. When trouble is upon you, control the things you can.
The storm hit late Saturday night. The boys and I set up camp in our basement. I was worried about trees falling down on the house during the night and I also wanted to keep an eye on the sump pump. We had flashlights and candles nearby.The winds were not as bad as I had expected, but the rain was much worse. Every 90 minutes or so I put on my raincoat and ran to the back of our yard to clear debris out of the yard drains. Keeping the drains clear was vital to preventing water from coming in the house, but being outside in the storm was terrifying.
4. When things get bad, don’t just stand there!
At about 4 am I found that water was seeping in through the wall near our boiler. I went outside to see that the third floor gutter was clogged and water was pouring into the basement window well with the force of a firehouse. I had to think…. while feeling like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz being tossed in the wind. My first thought was wood, but that would blow away. I remembered that we had a piece of slate in the yard. I dragged it over and leaned it up against the window to block the water from above and redirect it. Back inside I piled towels around the area to absorb the water and block the flow. IT WORKED!
5. When Things Calm Down, Take Stock
We awoke on Sunday morning to find the storm was still raging. We lost power (Thank goodness for the battery back up for the sump pump) and could see that the storm had taken a toll. We went through the house looking for any leaks or problems. By noon we were able to go outside and see the true scope. The river had flooded our neighborhood so badly that at the end of our street, the water came up to the stop sign!.
6. Learn From Your Experiences
While I am very happy with the way I prepared for the storm, I realize now that there are things I could have done better. For example, I wish that I had brought in the Shop Vac and extension cords from the garage. I wish that my husband and I had invested in a generator (Luckily I was able to borrow one…. power is expected to be out another week or so). I should have packed some clothes and supplies in case of a necessary evacuation. I also wish I had packed my kids’ baby photo albums and my wedding album into waterproof containers. I would have been saddened to lose those items!
7. Be grateful.
By sheer luck the water never really entered our home. Unfortuantely, we are one of only a few. Many of our neighbors and friends have experienced devastating losses and had to be rescued from their homes. It is painful to walk through our beautiful town and see the massive destruction, but it is also heartening to see the way the town of Cranford works together. People are helping to bail each other out, working together to clear out their houses of damaged possessions and sharing generators with each other to provide some power. Those with homes that were not damaged have opened their doors to house those who need shelter, and the town officials have opened the town pool for people to take showers. The fire and rescue squads have worked tirelessly to rescue people during the storm, and then to pump out their homes in the aftermath. This is a town with special people.. Irene may have broken Cranford’s heart, but nothing can break our spirit!