I’ll be honest. Before hurricane Sandy, my “go bag” was basically a tote bag with a bunch of diapers, a few juice boxes, some bandaids, and 3 of those mini bottles of vodka you see behind the register at liquor stores. Needless to say, as a resident of New York City, I didn’t take hurricanes that seriously. I live on top of a hill, so high up that I’m not even in an evacuation zone. My zone-less hill is surrounded by Zone C, which is surrounded by Zone B.
Basically, if my apartment building gets flooded everyone’s pretty much screwed.
My friends who live in Zone A didn’t evacuate. They didn’t evacuate during Irene either, and they all got a good laugh out of that. Sure, everyone said that this would be the “worst storm we’ve ever seen” and dramatic stuff like that, but the worst the city had ever had up until that point was the storm that downed all the trees in Riverdale, and the yearly tornado that always seems to touch down in the exact same spot in Bay Ridge. There were isolated pockets of destruction, but nothing citywide.
But after Hurricane Sandy, these Zone A friends, some of whom have children my daughter’s age, were stuck with no power, water, or heat for days. They ran out of diapers and milk. They should have evacuated of course, but I can’t judge them because I’m pretty sure I would not have evacuated either.
This year, the restaurants that I always ate in while visiting my grandmother in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn are flooded. The Jersey Shore of my childhood is literally gone, and Staten Island, where I was born and raised, is something that I can’t even talk about without getting weepy. My parents, who still live on Staten Island, are thankfully okay. There was some minor roof damage, a downed tree and loss of power on and off for a few days, but everyone is still alive. We’re counting our blessings.
When I went shopping for things to send to the shelter near my parent’s house I got to thinking about how unprepared I really am for what happened. What if I lost power for a week? What if the tree in front fell onto the building? What if I actually had to evacuate? Why don’t I own for myself half of the things I’m buying for other people? These are questions I had never thought of before. Big, powerful storms used to serve as markers in our lives, on a par with Kennedy’s assassination, or Pearl Harbor, or 9/11. They became markers because they were rare, once- in-a-lifetime events. Now, they’re happening more and more often. “Sucks for them” is quickly becoming “Sucks for us.” I’m expecting another once-in-a-lifetime storm next year.
I need to pack a real go-bag. I need to prepare to lose power for a week during cold weather with a toddler, a dog, three cats, and a snake. I need non-perishable food, bottled water, emergency batteries, solar powered phone chargers, a radio, and waterproof containers. I need enough of these things to last me until the gasoline shortage the next storm causes is over. You should pack a real go bag too (if you already haven’t). Things are getting serious — Al Gore on an elevated platform serious.
I’m not saying that you should join one of those apocalypse militias, hoard cans in your pantry, keep a scary-looking knife under your bed, and start saving up for a submarine. Don’t panic. What I’m saying is that you should operate under the assumption that Sandy 2.0 is in our future, and plan accordingly.
Whether you want to blame global warming or some freak El Niño meteorological stuff, we can all agree on the fact that storms are becoming more intense and more destructive more often. Buy a flashlight. Make sure your grandmother has a flashlight.
Also check out https://statenisland.recovers.org/ and send some love to my native island.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.