More share experience, understanding and risk

Hurricane Sandy approaches the Atlantic Coast.

Hurricane Sandy approaches the Atlantic Coast.

The temptation to be smug can be hard to resist.

Sandy was just supposed to be a “Cat 1,” at worst, barely a hurricane. Before the storm made landfall, however, reports in the national media gave the impression that New York and New Jersey faced a storm of unimaginable proportions.

Most of us on the Gulf Coast heard the local comments. Many of us made them. What would these pampered northeasterners do if they had to face a real storm, an Ivan or Katrina?

Almost every year, people somewhere on the Gulf Coast has to deal with much worse than a storm that barely rates a name, the local comments. Meanwhile, people fled and offices shut down from Washington to Wall Street.

Others here did point out that the East Coast isn’t set up to deal with a tropical visitor. They don’t have the equipment and plans in place as people do in areas where storms have to be expected on an annual basis.

Maybe one of the best comparisons that I heard asked how we’d respond to a blizzard. If the south coast gets more than a few snowflakes, schools and roads shut down for 200 miles.

Everyone soon saw that Sandy was more than an overrated tropical storm.

Initial estimates put insured damage between $5 billion and $10 billion and said the overall economic effect could be twice that.

By Tuesday night, 8.2 million utility customers were without electricity. Wire reports put the number of dead in the United States at more than 80.

Airports shut down. Trains and subways stopped. Cities were flooded. Waterfront homes washed into the ocean as beaches disappeared.

Sandy did everything expected of a major storm.

On Friday, I spoke to someone in Pennsylvania.

“We just got our power back this morning,” she said. “You don’t realize how much you miss it until it’s not there.”

She said they had been lucky. Her house, about 30 minutes from Princeton, N.J., had little damage.

It was the same comment I remember hearing from many Baldwin County residents after Ivan. “We just lost a few shingles,” she said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

No power, relief after days of worrying about damage to the house and the realization after seeing some of your neighbors, that you were lucky. Many of us on the Gulf Coast, knew exactly how the woman and her neighbors felt.

I made a comment about going into dark rooms for days and flipping the light switch out of habit. She said they’d done the same thing.

Gulf Coast residents understand what they’re going through.

When we see the projected path of a storm aimed at another part of the coast, we know the worry being felt. When we see the damage from the storm surge and winds, many of us remember picking our ways through the fallen trees and sand-covered roads.

We have seen the flooded neighborhoods and we’ve sat in the unmoving evacuation traffic.

The thin silver lining to Sandy’s dark storm cloud might be that more people will understand what others have gone through and will go through in the future.

Disasters don’t just happen to other people in far-away parts of the country and the world. A storm surge can sweep through Manhattan as well as Fort Morgan.

The people who realize this, who have been through this, are often the first to respond when someone else is affected. Volunteers from Baldwin County who had just gone through Hurricane Ivan the year before made their way to Mississippi and Louisiana after Katrina.

If they can, volunteers set out to offer what help they can. Others donate time and money for relief efforts.

We see the effects of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters. We know that the time will come when we all need help and other times will come when it’s our turn to help.

Guy Busby is a writer living in Silverhill. He can be reached at guylbusby@gmail.com and at guybusby.com.

 

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