It’ll just be a couple days of rain and wind. Maybe a power outage, we thought.
And the rain stopped. The wind slowed. But what remains made history.
Now days after the unfathomable and unparalleled destruction of Hurricane Sandy, the Northeast is stagnantly saturated with salt water and sand, waterlogged beyond recognition. My home state, the Garden State, New Jersey. A hurricane feels like more than a storm of rain and wind and waves—it’s also a storm of travesty and heartbreak unfurling over a single evening of darkness.
I’m from New Jersey. You’re from Long Island or upstate New York or just outside of Philadelphia. Maybe Massachusetts or Maine. We are from the North. We are prone to mild seasons with the occasional heat surge or blizzard. We don’t do hurricanes—but we just did.
My home is a few miles inland in central New Jersey. It has withheld its identity and its history as best as can be imagined—a few backyard trees down, perhaps some shingles blown from the rooftop. We are lucky. My parents are left without electricity and heat still, unsure when the fallen power lines and blown transformers will be repaired and life can begin again. They are drinking coffee boiled atop our propane-powered grill and eating their umpteenth consecutive meal of peanut butter and jelly or dry cereal. We are a middle-of-the-road family in a safe neighborhood in a town of fine reputation in perhaps the most widely recognizable beach region in northeastern America. Again we are the North—we don’t do hurricanes.
I didn’t realize I was homesick until I filtered through all of the photos and news updates from the storm. Facebook status updates asked if gas stations were open anywhere nearby. Tweets bore hashtags of that female name we’re tired of hearing or saying or answering to: Sandy. Instagram photos were unfiltered and uncensored images of devastated homes and towns, beaches and dunes indecipherable from streets and avenues. Water in places where water should never be. Boats blown to land, and homes blown to pieces. Videos of jet-skis skating over waterlogged streets, documenting the wreckage. New York City looks more like Venice, replacing gondolas and singers with rescue boats and 911 calls.
It is unthinkable, unimaginable, to page through the photos of destruction on the Jersey shore. The water has receded since the storm made its unsolicited entrance, and in its departure it has stripped New Jersey of its identity as a mecca for sundrenched shore locals and excited vacationers. It is where I, and many other undergraduates at this University, hold our only memories of childhood and adolescence. The café whose waitress knew your order before you entered. The spot where you parked your car to have a cup of coffee with your best friend, or the beach where you kissed someone under the lifeguard stand in the moonlight. Picture the most incredible and unforgettable locations you grew up in—and now imagine them swept away by the tide.
The house you see on MTV, the beachfront property and the bustling boardwalk and the neon lights that burn against the black night sky—they were broken and swept away and sand-covered. Ground zero is filled with pools of stagnant water, and streets throughout the Northeast are scattered with telephone poles, which form giant tic-tac-toe boards on the pavement. State police, local responders and the Coast Guard continue to conduct rescue missions, which unveil the frailty of human life as the days pass. Casino Pier, the iconic amusement park from Seaside Heights, N.J., is little more than an entanglement of metal beams and wood shards breaking the currents that continue to mock the shores of New Jersey with their consistent and deliberate waxing and waning.
These widespread damages and the overwhelming consideration of the next step are part of a surreal and somber experience for communities affected by this super storm—including communities that didn’t shelter but a drop of rain or feel but a breezy wind. Our Duke community—filled with students hailing from New Jersey, New York and other states on the path Sandy swept through—is undoubtedly affected by this incomparable storm. Thousands remain in allotted shelters, and these people—regular people now homeless or condemned from their own lives—are slowly running out of gas, undergarments, food and clean water.
This storm is both a reminder and a test, an acknowledgement that tragedy in improbable places is still possible and often uncontrollable by humans. Americans will come together next week and have the potential to create another pivotal moment in our nation’s history. We will all be Americans, no doubt, but in the wake of this devastation at the hands of nature’s worst, we must all be of the North.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Friday. You can follow Ashley on Twitter @camano4chron.