Monday, September 05, 2011


The coverage came in long before the storm.  Several days out we watched a variety of Weather Channel pundits point, over and over again, at the red stripe that Irene was likely to follow, and New York was squarely in the red.  As Irene grew broad and began lumbering up the coast, those pundits spoke about New York in lower tones.  Then a Weather Channel correspondent — one of those guys who reports on location from driving rains — starting filing segments from our neighborhood.  Cue the nervous laughter. 

Our concern really began to swell, though, when the mayor started saying things, too.  We live in northern Battery Park City, an area full of new buildings, and I didn’t worry that much about whether our building would withstand the wind.  The neighborhood, however, sits right on the Hudson and squarely in what the city calls Hurricane Evacuation Zone A, or the area at greatest risk for flooding during a hurricane.*

As the week progressed, the red stripe didn’t bend out to sea like usual, and on Wednesday the mayor began encouraging residents of Zone A to find other places to sit out the storm.  The kids and I went in search of purpose and new flashlights, and my lovely wife and I started thinking about where we could go.  The Weather Channel correspondent still filed from our neighborhood, but now he held his hand up as high as he could when talking projected storm-surge levels.  A picture of Irene from space made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook, looking like a big ball of cotton hanging out of the continent’s ear.  We canceled our weekend beach and U.S. Open plans.

Then things got real serious.  The mayor said that if projections held for a category 1 Irene to roll up 5th Avenue, the city was going to shut down all subway and bus service — a precaution never taken in the transit system’s century+ existence.  The mandatory evacuation order for Zone A came down from City Hall on Friday morning, and it was official.  We had to be out of our apartment by 5 p.m. Saturday.

We don’t have any family nearby, so we thought of those most familiar.  Many good friends in the city  quickly and happily opened their homes to us.**  We also received an invitation from our good friends who live in northern New Jersey.  Given that Q and The Boy love their kids, have more or less grown up with them, and had already stayed overnight at their house, we thought that was the best choice.  And if a huge tree fell across their roof, I could help hang tarp or something similarly man-related.

All day Friday the city was pushing people to leave their homes well in advance of the mandatory deadline and the transit shutdown.  My wife had taken the day off, and I left work early so that we could have emptier trains out to New Jersey.  We filled a single bag with just a few clothes, a camera, our stash of passports and certificates, and the hard drive that contains a copy of our entire digital life, including over 260 GB of photos.***  Q stuffed her backpack with her important blankets and some books; The Boy packed several flashlights and books, including 100 Most Dangerous Things on the Planet and 100 Most Awesome Things on the Planet, each with the hurricane page sticky-noted.  We walked out of our apartment and our neighborhood, at least half expecting never to see either in the same state again. I said that we were leaving on our "evacuvacation" in an attempt to joke everyone into feeling a little safer.

Friday and and most of Saturday in New Jersey were weirdly beautiful.  We watched the news on TV and our phones constantly, watched people (stupidly, I think) talking about how bad the storm was as they struggled to stand against it on beaches in North Carolina and then Virginia.  We ordered in pizza. Our friends have a pool and a trampoline, and the kids jumped one way and another.

The rain came in Saturday afternoon, soft at first, and then strong and steady, and then stronger still.  Irene spun like a pinwheel firework throughout the night and Sunday morning, flinging bands of yellow and red weather all up and down the Mid-Atlantic, but the winds never picked up enough to take down the trees. To our kids' disappointment, we never had to rely on the flashlights.

By Sunday afternoon, the rain moved north and a stronger wind finally came around. My wife and I took all the kids for a walk around the neighborhood to have a look at any damage.  There wasn’t much to see, a few smaller branches brought down here and there, maybe a streak of dirt where the heavy rain took some lawn down a storm drain.  The lack of damage was almost shocking, especially compared to what we had seen happen to the north and south of us.

When we returned to Zone A and our apartment on Monday afternoon, not a leaf looked out of place.  We slid the important papers back into their place, reconnected the hard drive to our main computer.  As we downloaded the photos from the weekend, we saw instead of moments of loss, kids caught smiling mid-bounce, a group of them mixing up biscotti dough together in the warm kitchen, pairs walking hand in hand in the sun, even the finished Scrabble boards from the two nights the adults played.  (My wife and I were crushed by our hosts both times.)  We really had been treated to something like a vacation, the very opposite of worry.

I set the computer to back itself up; we wanted to take this weekend with us should there be a next time.

*We’re definitely going to have to move before all the glaciers melt. The place is eventually doomed.
**For a stay of who knows how long in smallish to definitely small apartments. Really incredible people.
***See?  Serious.


Anonymous said...

very happy that it all worked out in the end.

teahouse said...

Yes, very happy that everything was fine! Having grown up on the Gulf Coast, and lived through about a dozen hurricanes, I was glad the City took the precautions it did. We were up in VT, thinking we were fine, and we got hit with the worst of it!

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