Lessons From Mother Nature in Wake of Hurricane Sandy

by Diane Dimond on November 5, 2012

Super Storm Sandy Smashes the East

More than 110 people were killed but there was no crime. There were widespread blackouts yet there was no systematic looting. Police departments were run ragged but lawlessness seemed to take a vacation.

This column isn’t about crime this time. It is about how, in the the face of crisis crime is replaced by an overwhelming sense of fellowship and mutual survival. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy I am writing this not on my usual laptop computer but on a smaller iPad which is cumbersome to operate via candlelight. I had to slowly charge it to life via a cord plugged into my car’s cigarette lighter.

My family is among the almost five million Americans left without power by this monumental storm. We’re told it could be 10 days before our Hudson River village, about 20 miles north of Manhattan will have electricity again.

But we are alive and feeling so lucky.

Breezy Point Neighborhood’s Double Whammy

Not far from us, in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens not only did massive quantities of floodwaters roar in so did a marauding fire that consumed more than 80 buildings leaving hundreds homeless. Firefighters battled neck-high floods, low water pressure and tons of Sandy’s sludge for 12 hours to contain the blaze. This neighborhood has already had its share of tragedy. It has always been a close knit place populated by firemen and police officers many of whom lost their lives as first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Just as we saw in the aftermath of September 11th first responders to Sandy’s wreckage ran toward the calamity as the rest of us ran away to safety. All up and down the Eastern seaboard brave souls pitched in to help evacuate stranded residents and hospital patients. They worked tirelessly to clear debris, fallen trees and land-stranded boats from neighbor’s yards.

From Florida to Connecticut utility workers left their own families and fanned out en masse to help restore their fellow citizens gas lines and electric service. They battled dangerous live wires, rising tides that made flooding even worse and roadways with malfunctioning traffic lights and littered with obstacles.

Clever Word Play But Not Funny

In the run-up warnings about the approaching storm the media had taken to calling Hurricane Sandy and its expected collision with a powerful northern cold front “The Frankenstorm.” Creative word play and almost funny when I first heard it. But I’ll bet rescue workers struggling in the thick of it weren’t thinking of clever names to call the storm.

In New Jersey, the state in which Superstorm Sandy made landfall, volunteers with operable boats and large trucks roared in to save total strangers. One was a petrified 85 year old woman who was coaxed onto the back of a jet-ski and taken to safety. On my battery powered radio I heard an emotional Governor Chris Christie describe what he had seen after taking a helicopter tour of his state. He described the devastation he had seen including acres of flooded neighborhoods, farm land, damaged rail roads and an exit off the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 280 that had simply disappeared in the storm surge.

NJ Governor Chris Christie Describes Damage

Christie sounded as though he might cry when he described the complete destruction of one of his favorite childhood spots – the Seaside Heights amusement park. Its rides were gone, he said, floating in the sea.

“We will rebuild,” a resolute Christie said. “But for those my age it will never be the same … so much washed away into the Atlantic ocean.”

In New York, the other state that incurred the most damage from Sandy, the massive scale of destruction was hard to comprehend. The area in lower Manhattan where hundreds of thousands live was plunged into darkness. The sea wall surrounding the newly rebuilt Ground Zero site was compromised and Hudson River water began to pour in. Seven tunnels into New York City and hundreds of subway stations filled up with countless millions of gallons of water. Commuter train tracks from New Jersey and Connecticut were buried in Sandy’s sludge and made inoperable. With transportation stalled in and out of the city commerce stopped, including Wall Street – the engine that runs so much of the American economy.

Seawater Pours into Ground Zero Site

But no one gave up. The Coast Guard and the Red Cross were there to help. The financial sector re-grouped quickly and got back to work. The Army Corp of Engineers brought in enormous sump-pump devices and put them to work at the tunnels and rail hubs to undo what Sandy had done. The city offered free bus rides to get people back to work. There were no complaints from civil servants forced to work exhausting mandatory overtime with no immediate end in sight.

These people did it because that’s what we do in America. We gather up our can-do attitude and we get the job done. We don’t let tragedy define us. It doesn’t matter what we don’t have – electricity to power our televisions and our habit-forming computer gadgets or heat for our homes in this chilly late-autumn weather – it is what we ARE that matters most. Compassionate, resolute, survivors.

After slogging through the divisiveness of partisan politics for the last year it’s heartwarming to see Americans being cohesive again – even if it is just a transitory phase.  Too bad it takes a crisis to remind us that we are all in this together.

Whitecaps on the Hudson River in Advance of Sandy

The Hudson River is three miles wide where we live and only a small two lane road lies between us and the water. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing it everyday outside my window. I sheepishly admit that I sometimes look at its usually placid flow with a sort of disinterest. Never again. This behemoth has commanded my eternal respect because I see now that this historic river is capable of terrible things when spurred on by Mother Nature.

We have survived. The river will survive longer.



{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 12:30 am

ABQ Journal Reader John Hunt writes:



Amy November 5, 2012 at 9:11 am

Thanks for your words of comfort in the face of so much desolation. After 9/11 (my husband a NYC firefighter) I didn’t think I could have these emotions again about ‘our’ City and the Jersey Shore that has been such a part of my life. Living on the Hudson as well, I went down and saw the semi-yacht sitting on the railroad tracks and dodged downed trees and power lines. The gas situation reminds me of the energy crisis in the ’70s – odd/even days. But we rally and move ahead.


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

Facebook Friend Howard Delacruz-bancroft writes:

“You know it’s bad when even the criminals are affected.”


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

Facebook Friend Yvonne Marten Ebstein writes:

“Pretty Good News in the midst of so much Sad News <3"


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:09 am

Facebook Friend Joseph Aiello writes:

“Except Sheepshead Bay & Coney Island.”


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:09 am

Facebook Friend Darryl DuPont writes:

“Like with Katrina, we will hear the stories of the con artists after people are better able to get back in their homes. Burglaries under the cover of Sandy were up in NYC and a ‘wave of burglaries’ in Mercer County , NJ.”


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:10 am

Facebook Friend Colleen Root McQuilken · Friends with Darryl DuPont writes:

“We have had looting here, too…people stealing generators, and in our store, because it is on generator and alot of the aisles are dark, we are finding alot of empty packages and boxes…they leave the package after they take what’s in it, we’ve have been shocked by the amount of theft.”


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:11 am

Colleen Root McQuilken writes:

“and the Bayhead mayor asked for more national guardsmen when Christie was on his tour of the area, it’s really sad.”


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:11 am


” Since I wrote this column – in the blush of the Hurricane making landfall – I’ve been saddened too to read about instances of looting and stealing and fighting at gas pumps. Guess its inevitable in a crisis situation like this. But I still see the glass as mostly full. Mostly people (who are frustrated to be sure) have banded together to help each other. Ah, human nature – good and bad…..”


Diane Dimond November 5, 2012 at 10:22 am

Linked In pal Elizabeth Kelley writes:

“Beautiful, moving account — Glad you are safe!”


Diane Dimond November 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Facebook Friend Colleen Root McQuilken writes:

“We had a local church youth group outside of our store yesterday and what a wonderful thing it was, people were donating to them all day, it was great to see.”


CLS November 8, 2012 at 2:35 am

My heart goes out to those on the East Coast. But it was warming to read your column and see how much people joined together, in the wake of the hurricane.


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