In the path of a hurricane

Over the past week, one story has dominated the American media: Hurricane Sandy. Regardless if you live on the East or West Coast, countless stories have inundated the press about the severity and tragedy of the storm. While local residents experience the direct ramifications of its size and nature, the scope of its impact can be felt from New York to Miami, Brooklyn to San Francisco, Atlantic City to Seattle. For those of us tucked away in the cozy warmth of the Napa Valley, the images and news reports seem unreal. But as the true weight of this storm’s impact is highlighted, the blunt force of its devastation cannot be ignored. The overwhelming standstill of our nation’s largest metropolitan region has quickly come into focus and suddenly, in our little utopian valley, the reality of its severity has hit. In a world where modern conveniences and expediency are the norm, seeing a system shut down to its most basic functions is both humbling and terrifying.

When we started writing this article, our mindset was influenced by the flow of pre-Sandy photos, Facebook updates, and Tweets of friends enjoying good bottles of wine over candlelight, stockpiling junk food, depleting large quantities of alcohol, and more. Essentially, in anticipation of the inevitable, they were trying to calm their pre-Hurricane jitters by making themselves as comfortable as possible before the storm hit.

As these first few images came through our various social media feeds, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, hopeful that this storm would be akin to Irene; powerful, yes, but not as devastating as government officials had predicted.

Midtown Manhattan on the evening of October 31, 2012. Photo Credit – Tara M.

With numerous friends baking pies, having dinner parties and some even throwing in a final workout or two, none of us could have predicted what was about to come next. Confident in our ignorance, our initial mindset was: Wouldn’t it be interesting to draft a short article about hurricane preparedness tips for the foodie and wine lover? And so, without much knowledge about the gravity of the situation, we blasted off a note to our East Coast friends and colleagues asking them to send in photos of how they had passed the time (as though surviving a storm of that magnitude is to be treated like an extended slumber party with friends).

Little did we know how wrong we were. Now that the storm has passed – and we’ve had a few days to fully assess the damage – we are looking at a very different reality. A reality that has – quite literally – changed the face of the East Coast. The once humorous pre-hurricane shop signs advertising beer and wine now seem out of place and insensitive. The friends who came to dinner, yet never left as they were subsequently evacuated from their homes, is a common theme. The distant memory of a pre-Sandy world where electricity was abundant haunts locals. The thought of once gaily popping into a store or a gas station and quickly fulfilling your order now seems almost inconceivable. And the knowledge that, should something go wrong, the EMTs and paramedics will be able to whisk you away to a ready hospital is a precarious bet, at best.

These are the realities now. Even as Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Christie, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate, and an extensive list of other forces valiantly pioneer forward in the wake of this storm, the full recovery will take weeks, months and, in some cases, years.

The traditional media is doing its best to bring these stories to the masses, but there are still so many more to be shared. The packed lower Manhattan hotels that – quite literally – have no more room. The self-appointed mavens who have opened their homes to those in need of a warm shower and a meal. The over-packed hospitals that continue to run on generators, stressing their ever-impacted safety nets. The creative ways that establishments are trying to serve their communities (communal charging stations when the power is on; glow-stick distribution when the power is off). The lucky, local merchants whose shops have not been destroyed and who are endeavoring to continue service to their neighborhoods. The stories are endless, each due attention and respect.

The “two” Manhattans on November 1, 2012. One with power; one without. Photo Credit – Katie W.

So…what now? What can we do?

For those of us who feel a world away, yet still want to help, we’ve collected a few suggestions here:

  • The Huffington Post has created a list of ways to support relief efforts, helpfully organizing each category by region, city and neighborhood. This ever-growing list can be found here. (For those of you with on-the-ground knowledge of how to help, the HuffPo is constantly adding to this list; Tweet your suggestions with the hashtags #howtohelp #sandy.)
  • On Tuesday morning, Bon Appetit was one of the first to create a list that can be found here.
  • NBC Universal announced on Thursday morning that they will hold a Telethon on Friday at 8:00p.m. in their Rockefeller Plaza studios. More information can be found here.

In the extended future, once the immediate clean-up and recovery has been orchestrated, it is important to not forget the longer-term rebuilding process. In this, we mean, supporting the community; investing in its future. Essentially, doing what it takes to get the system back up and running.

For example, floodwaters decimated Pasanella and Son Vintners, a local wine shop on South Street Seaport, and wrecked havoc on Governor Dumbo Restaurant, a neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn. Places like these need your help. They are but two of an extensive list of shops and restaurants that, once open and operating again, need your patronage and support. It goes without saying that such establishments are what enrich the fabric of this region. They are what make these communities so special; they are its heart and soul.

Considering all of this, it can be easy to ask the question: Will the region recover?

As one friend wrote:

I will say that this city is incredibly resilient and robust in the face of catastrophe. People on the street both before and after the storm were friendly, conversation was lively in the elevator, lines in the grocery stores were civil. There was a strong feeling of community and positive energy as I walked throughout the city yesterday. Maybe it’s because NYC has been thru some pretty rough periods in its past. New Yorker’s realize that life is to be lived to its fullest and that if you dwell and let situations like Sandy affect your…ability to enjoy life, you’ve lost the struggle that is living in NYC.

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