When the forecasts began days before Sandy, I was sure of two things: First,
we’d lose power in our rural Rockland County house. Second, we’d be unable to
leave because we have five cats and five chickens, and no shelter, friend or
hotel is going to be that menagerie-friendly.
Over the pre-storm weekend, we bought ice, inventoried flashlights and the
picnicware, took out the down blankets and juiced up the battery-operated radio.
We filled the car with gas, put away lawn furniture, planted heavy stones inside
garbage and recycling cans and closed our bird-feeding cafe.
My husband dragged two 12-volt battery packs (which are designed to warn you
when your computer loses power but can also run the fireplace fan for a couple
of hours) from the basement. I forwarded my land-line to my cellphone.
Sunday, we shored up our chicken coops with tarps. I made dinner. My husband
baked a cake. We got a fire going. At 6:30 p.m., my husband, daughter and I sat
down to eat. We felt rushed; I wanted to get the dishes through the wash-and-dry
The wind groaned. Trees bent sideways. Regret set in because we had not
bought a generator. We’d made a last-ditch effort that day, but who were we
kidding? A half-hour before we were plunged into darkness, we ordered an
800-watt generator from Amazon.com that was due to arrive on Thursday — three
days after Sandy hit.
For the next 24 hours, I braced myself for disaster. I know trees come down
and slice through houses and kill people, and since we have a bazillion trees, I
felt like a sitting duck. Every gust of wind rattled my bones.
But the roaring fire, flashlights and solar lights we’d brought in from
outside got us through the night.
Come Tuesday morning, everything was standing, including us. We had no hot
water, no lights, no heat, no cell service, but our house, land and chickens
were intact. We got the fireplace going. I made tea using our gas stove, the
milk we’d put on ice was OK for cereal. NPR conveyed the magnitude of loss and
Tuesday afternoon, we got in the car and headed to the village of Nyack.
Enormous trees slouched on power lines. Splintered branches and loose wires
littered the roads. Streets were blocked. There was no power anywhere, not even
in supermarkets, which I always assumed had generators. We picked up spotty cell
service on Main Street and called family.
From that point forward, every moment was about how to get to the next
moment. Our next meal? Where would we shower? How to keep the fireplace going?
Where can we find electricity to re-charge our battery packs? We hunted for
Wi-Fi for my husband’s Kindle Fire, our only way to go online. Neither of us is
clever enough to own a smartphone.
On Thursday, the generator didn’t arrive. UPS said Amazon didn’t ship it;
Amazon said it did. I was convinced someone stole the generator. After dogged
efforts to pin it down, we were told it would arrive the next day.
Friday, the three of us were in Westchester. We borrowed a hot shower, ate in
Whole Foods and went in vain to Dick’s Sporting Goods store for dry cells. In
the middle of the empty store was a Ping-Pong table. “Let’s play,” I said to my
husband. We paddled fiercely. We had nowhere to be. It felt cathartic. It was a
At 3 p.m., we headed back to our cold domicile. Power had been restored to
some streetlights and businesses along Route 59. We turned onto our mountain
road. “Is there any chance our lights will be on?” my husband wondered.
“No,” I snapped.
“Don’t say that, Mommy,” my daughter said. “Imagine that the lights will be
on, and they will!”
As we ascended the road, we noticed the large tree that had been draped on a
wire had been removed. Lights were on in some houses. We kept driving, our
spirits lifting. My husband turned into the driveway. I flew out of the car. The
house was lit up. I screamed. “POWER, WE HAVE POWER!” I jumped up and down. My
daughter joined me in the rejoicing. And there on our porch was the box
containing our new generator.
I put on every light. I washed dishes and did four loads of laundry. I
cooked. Then, I suggested we have a postmortem meeting. What would we do
differently? Now that we had a generator, we talked about buying a small
refrigerator. Maybe we need smartphones for Internet access. A larger supply of
dry cells. While sitting there, smugly, and thinking hypothetically, the power
I called the police. “We know, ma’am.” I was so hysterical I became, let’s
just say, a little fresh. I think I was subconsciously courting arrest so I
could spend a warm night in a jail cell.
Ten minutes later, the lights came on again.
“OK,” I said. Forget emergency planning. What we need is a Winnebago in the
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