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The northeast is seeing hurricanes differently now



In the northeast, hurricanes look very different now

22 years ago, my wife and I moved to Montclair in New Jersey with our two children. To send our children to school, we moved from northwest Montana in August. My son was in first grade, my daughter in fifth. Our arrival was immediately followed by Hurricane Floyd. Millions of Americans have had to evacuate other areas of the country; but, in Montclair, the storm was far less frightening than its true horrors. It just seemed exciting. Although Montana is surrounded by beautiful scenery, it rarely experiences hurricanes. I put on waterproof clothing, and jumped into the rainstorm. It poured down the streets in windswept waves, hitting the trees and making it seem like it was steaming. I reached out to the elements and put the rain in my face. It was like bathwater after jumping from a tropical vacation ad, jumping out of a Caribbean Sea, and coming all the way to visit us. I rode an empty bus to Manhattan with a friend that I hadn’t seen for years. He couldn’t make it from Brooklyn so I walked the canyons of the city and watched as the clouds rolled against them. Skyscrapers soared past the fifteenth floor. I was wondering if the empty bus would return, as the driver continued to drag the vehicle through stagnant waters. We reached the First Third River at Montclair Creek just before it was full. He stopped and weighed his chances, then he plunged into it.

Since then, many other major hurricanes have made their way across this region: Katrina (last week), Irene, Sandy and Ida. My son and his cousin were in Cleveland to prepare for the final home game for my favorite baseball team, The Guardians, when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. It is odd that this team has chosen this name as their mascot. This is a reference to the fact that Oklahoma whites have in the past been guardians for Native Americans with the intent of taking their oil money. They are being murdered! We drove back to New Jersey instead of driving to the Guardians’ future rainy game. It was a tough mountain road, almost impossible to pass by, made even more difficult by the same warm hurricanes that rained on me the first time I met Floyd. I only saw the destruction in Louisiana on TV after I returned from Louisiana.

2011 was a stormy year in the Northeast. Irene’s wind and rain swept through the region like a untied firehose. It soaked everything, flushed out bridges, and made the wooded areas look wet cats. We had just returned from vacation in New Hampshire, Vermont, where Robert Frost had been to important places. Televised footage of the torrential rains in downtown Brattleboro made me wonder what type of poem Irene could have written. Frost’s “West-Running Brook,” would it have been strong enough to withstand, say, five thousand cubic yards per second of floodwater? And, if so, could he have been able poetryize it?

Sandy, which struck New York City in 2012, was the worst storm to hit the area. When Sandy struck New York City, I was in Austin Texas. It drowned all the airports and left me stranded at a hotel for four nights. When I returned home, the first thing I did was visit my friends on Staten Island. (My wife had inadvertently filled our Honda with fuel just before the storm. This helped me keep everyone under control until the stations ran out. Nearly half of those killed in New York City’s storm were on Staten Island. My view of the world was changed by what I saw there. Every detail in our inhabited area reminds me of Staten Island after Sandy. Each house could be a ruined structure that was destroyed by a powerful storm-driven tsunami. What appears to be supporting the second story’s rickety structure is only bare stairs. Plastic toys from CVS will be mixed with uprooted phragmite and reeds to create a mess on the beach. The plastic straws and the brown and green plastic coffee stirrers they give to you at Starbucks, as well as red and white striped cocktails, and little plastic swords for hors de oeuvre, are all nuisances. Sandy caused Staten Island to sink to more than three metres below its original depth. All the straws, stirrers and other items were tossed together on top of the rubble. The water receded and left the agitator layer. This was located in chain-link fences at the edge of playing fields. One could see down the chain-link fence, and you could see how the high waterline of stirrers or straws pulled back to the beginning. Sandy helped me to see the entire invented universe as flotsam, seaweed, and dizzying chaos.

I didn’t rush in to Montclair when Hurricane Ida brought down the rain. I was alone in the home. Our children moved out many years ago. Our daughter now lives in Brooklyn, and our son is in Russia. He has lived there for six years. My wife was returning from Boston by Amtrak and spent the night at Penn Station and on the train. Some tracks and tunnels had been flooded. Twenty-two year ago, our house had been in better condition and was in a younger state. There was no basement water. It seems that water suddenly flows through basement walls when there are large storms. I am now familiar with the contours of basement and how it flows.

I used every bit of the shop vacuum I could to get as much into my clothes, which I was able to empty into the laundry area over and over. Every once in a while I checked to make sure the rain was receding. I caught good fish in streams that were smaller than those running down our street. The current in my driveway was pushing against my boots. Only blinking red-and-blue traffic passed. Although a heavy downpour from the west could have reached the same volume of precipitation as Ida’s, it could not have lasted long. Some local gauges indicated that the rain kept coming in three to four inches an hour. It flooded cars throughout the city and throughout the state. I find it incredible that such a chaotic confrontation could be funny or invigorating.

25 people were killed in New Jersey by Hurricane Ida. Most of them were in the northeastern United States. Six are still missing. The streets of New York are still littered with drowned cars. I was driving on the Major Deegan Expressway, Bronx, on Friday. There were tow trucks and other tow trucks busy on the hard shoulder. We also saw dry mud patches from hurricane floods. Because of dense smoke from forest fires, our family had to spend many days indoors the last time they visited Montana. This was not the case 22 years ago, when there were many hurricanes.

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