By Berit Ollestad
Before Superstorm Sandy arrived with a vengeance one year ago, I thought I had seen everything regarding natural disasters. I had lived in Florida during two of the most active hurricane seasons on record.
Several summers ago, I arrived in Miami only days before the first of eight hurricanes would slam the Sunshine State over a grueling two-year span.
Wilma tore the roof off my home in October 2005. I also became intimately connected to Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina and Rita.
After the initial shock, you settle into a routine and somehow work “hurricane preparedness” into your daily life. When an impending storm was forecast, it became second nature to buy water, stock up on ice and batteries, fill the propane tanks for the BBQ, and gas up the car.
Aside from Wilma, most of the storms that I “weathered” were slightly more than inconveniences. Losing power in Florida during August and September resembles outages from pesky snowstorms in the Northeast.
Next stop: Puerto Rico. I felt that I was a seasoned hurricane veteran, and no longer would be miserable for days and weeks with no power, air conditioning, TV, etc.
Before stepping on the island we made sure our home was equipped with a generator. We were told it “would power the neighborhood.” Fortunately, I never had the opportunity to find out. With the exception of the occasional tropical storm advisory, Puerto Rico proved uneventful.
Fast forward and we were Chicago bound. Yet again I was introduced to weather conditions of epic proportions. The blizzards and bone chilling cold were like nothing I had ever known. I also experienced what unofficially had been dubbed a “100 year storm,” producing record-breaking rain.
It was there that I first encountered a flooded basement.
And then, in February 2010, I found myself in New Jersey. I remember breathing a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that this part of the country wasn’t known for devastating weather. The occasional snowstorm would be tolerable.
Just when weather patterns seemed to be getting back to normal, tornadoes tore through the South. Vividly, I remember the newscaster intoning: “It was the worst devastation President Obama has ever seen!”
I felt a connection to the people in Tuscaloosa; I remembered the pain and agony from all those hurricanes in Florida. I wanted to make conditions just a little bit better for them. Morristown loaded an 18 wheeler with supplies for Tuscaloosa, and I decided that I wanted to meet to folks we were helping.
It was the most destruction I had seen in the U.S. Pictures truly did not do it justice.
Irene reacquainted me with tropical storms. Once again, I found myself talking with insurance adjusters, filing damage claims and living without power. But this time it was far better than in Florida. It was much cooler here, and neighbors with power were kind enough to take in my family until we got back on the grid.
Things weren’t so good elsewhere, however, as I discovered while traipsing in the early morning hours with a camera and leaky boots. Rain from this storm sent rivers raging down streets in Morristown’s Second Ward.
No sooner had we recovered when the October snowstorm of 2011 canceled Halloween across the tri-state area. I was in New York checking out the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Zucotti Park was blanketed in wet slush and bone-chilling cold. Conditions quickly grew more dire and I knew it was time to head home.
NJ Transit shut down. Luckily, I caught trains to Secaucus, and then Newark, where my disgruntled husband was able to fetch me in the height of the storm. Trees were falling all around us and we were the only ones foolish enough to be on the road.
By now, a pattern had emerged, which friends and family were only to happy to point out: Bad weather seems to find me.