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Life in post-apocalyptic New Jersey

Hi everyone, this is the first time in 2 days that I’ve been able to get decent cell phone service so I’m going to try to update as completely as I can.

Monday night was scary. Brooke had just finished her class online when Sandy made landfall at about 8:10pm. The lights stayed on until about 8:15 and then for an hour and a half, it sounded like a freight train was bearing down on us. We had been getting gusts off and on throughout the evening but when Sandy made landfall, it was one continuous gust coming from the southeast. The back of the house faces that direction. About 30 feet from the house, the landscape slopes up about 15 feet to where the pool is located. I think it was the berm that acted as a natural windbreak that saved our house from any structural damage. There is plenty of damage in our immediate neighborhood. The neighbor to my immediate left lost a tree close to the house. He’s very lucky he didn’t lose more. He’s not protected by the pool elevation so he got the wind straight on.

I don’t know how fast the wind was moving but in comparison, I waited out hurricane Charlie in a condo in Naples, Florida facing the gulf. I’d say the wind was at least that strong. So, if someone says 100 mph, that wouldn’t be far off, in my guesstimation. Brooke was upstairs in her room in the central most part of the house and she said she heard a lot of snapping noises. I was downstairs in the back of the house and could hear ominous groaning throughout the worst of it. It turns out that this is what trees sound like as they’re being uprooted. The house trembled and shook and it sounded like the roof was going to lift off.

I turned on my crankable radio and listened to Leonard Lopate broadcasting via generator from WNYC. He and Will Shortz did a good job keeping everyone calm. But when they reported that the wind was going to keep up like that for about another 3 hours, I started to get nervous. For reference, my town is about 36 miles from NYC as the crow flies directly west. So, whatever winds they were getting were the same ones I was getting minus the storm surge. In fact, this hurricane was very different from Irene. There was very little rain and the basement stayed dry.

The Aftermath

After I checked the house the next morning and discovered that we miraculously escaped any damage, Brooke and I went out to get gas for the generator. Now, we’re about an hour away from Belmar so we didn’t get the massive flooding but we have some pretty severe damage to the power lines. As we exited our development, we saw probably a hundred downed trees, including a tree that was (and is still) leaning dangerously over the power line and the street. There’s a traffic cone to direct traffic around it but it won’t help anyone if it falls. It’s a ginormous tree. For that reason, the road is blocked off in the return direction, which means we had to get on rt 206 to get back home. That’s when we saw about half of the main thoroughfare was closed because of more downed and live power lines. There were only two gas stations opened in this town of about 40,000 people and one of them ran out of gas at about 5:00pm yesterday. Exxon was closed although I can’t see any clear reason for that when the gas station across the street was open and so were a couple of other businesses on its side of the street.

This morning, the other gas station was closed. They must have run out of gas later in the evening.
There’s no place to get ice.

The New Jersey Hall of Shame award has to go to Jersey Firewood (jerseyfirewood.com on rt 206 that is gouging local residents for firewood, Yep, the MFers won’t sell less than 20 cubic feet to customers. It’s not like they’re going to run out. They have a couple of acres of firewood but if you aren’t going to buy a t least 20 cubic feet, they won’t sell you so much as a single log. They have no problem selling a small bundle any other time of the year. Just not now. So, since I have just a small car and can’t imagine needing that much firewood anyway, I had to do without. No amount of begging and pleading would get me so much as a stick of kindling. I can’t believe they’re able to get away with this in an emergency situation. We have a couple of Duraflame logs and a few logs so we should be ok tonight but unless the gas situation gets better tomorrow, we’re going to have to just wear our thermal undies and burn some furniture.

What really burns my oatmeal is that Jersey Firewood will have plenty of free material to sell next year when the downed trees are cut up and the logs allowed to season. Avoid these people like the plague.

The local Hall of Fame Award goes to the guys as the Getty gas station on rt 206. They weren’t even planning to open yesterday but they did. They opened early in the morning and kept going until late in the evening when they finally ran out of gas. I saw the same gas station attendant twice as I refilled my 2.5 gallon container. He was directing people very efficiently and keeping the line moving even though I could tell he was exhausted from 12 hours of bending over to fill the tanks. I offered to bring him hot chocolate, cider, coffee, a beer, anything he wanted. He finally cracked a smile and said he’d love a beer but he’d be done for the day at that point.

This afternoon as I went looking for firewood, I saw the Comcast and PSEG trucks finally in the vicinity of my neighborhood. I think the rate limiting step is going to be dealing with that massive tree that’s threatening to fall down. But there are a lot of them.

John Hockenberry is taking Sandy Stories in the evenings on WNYC. Some of the stories coming out of Newark and Hoboken are hair raising. You would not believe what these two cities have been through. Half of Hoboken is under water and at some point during the storm caught fire. Rescue vehicles from neighboring towns were called in but watched helplessly because they couldn’t get through the rising flood water. Staten Island was flooded and Long Island, where Katiebird’s sister Bev lives was inundated on the ocean and sound sides. Bev’s house is about 1/4 mile from the sound. I don’t know what kind of damage she’s looking at but about 95% of the island is without power.

I’ll have more to say about infrastructure on another post but let’s just say that this is not a good week to be an asshole Libertarian. Yeah, we hate those people this week. Really, really hate them with a white hot passion. Oh, and AT&T too. The next Republican who says that everything should be privatized and that phone and cable companies shouldn’t be regulated is going to be strung up by his balls in the northeast.

One last thing: John Hockenberry took a call from a guy in Somerset NJ which is about 5 miles from here. The guy said he finally saw the cherry picker trucks in his neighborhood last night. Their license plates said Michigan. I knew I wasn’t imagining the cherry picker convoy last Saturday night. So, I would just like to add:

THANK YOU MICHIGAN!

And that goes for all of the other states who sent equipment and power line experts to our state.

BTW, the generator is working great! We have light and can charge our computers and phones, not that we can get a good signal or use the wifi yet but it is good and I can’t thank you enough for the generator. In the even that Sandy comes back through with rain, I can hook up the sump pump.

I’ll try to check back in the comments. Later…

Hurricane Sandy: Go with throttle up

Tropical Storm winds- probability. This looks pretty accurate.

Update: We’re still doing ok with the lights although they are flickering and the wind sounds like a freight train when it starts gusting. I have some short iphone video clips from about an hour ago but I turned on two step verification on my google account and it’s giving me fits.
Brooke is taking her online AP History class at Stanford right now. So far, the wifi is holding up. Maybe the state learned something from Irene.

But would that be a good or bad thing for Christie?  If he proactively mitigated the effects of Sandy, wouldn’t that imply that government works after all?

Would he be a pariah at the next CPAC meeting?  Inquiring minds want to know.  In any case, it is gratifying to see my tax dollars at work.

About an hour ago, the lights started to flicker.  It was right after I got the sump pump reconnected.  It works.  In fact, it worked almost too well.  The minute I plugged it in, one of the connections came loose and the pump sprayed water all over the inside of the sump closet. That was fun. (um, someone remind me to return the check valve I accidentally liberated from the store).  The wind is picking up significantly out there but I have the generator!  Yes!  It’s sitting in my garage right now.  I’m just catching my breath from having to drag it in out of the car.  It is really heavy.  I’ve located one 2.5 gallon gas can so this will require several trips to the gas station, provided any stay open.  Almost everything around here is closed.  The grocery store is closed, not that they’d have anything to sell anyway.

I got down to Princeton and back just in time.  Driving conditions weren’t bad but I forgot that between my town and Princeton there is a depression in the topography caused by a retreating glacier a long time ago.  Even during regular rainstorms, the area floods and roads are impassable from Lawrenceville to South Brunswick.  In my case, it would have been a nightmare getting back because all roads leading to my town encounter a river or canal somewhere along the way.  We’re an island surrounded by flood prone areas.

As you can see from the picture above, the plumbing supply company rented the biggest U-Haul they could find and drove down to Philly for the generators.  They loaded about half of them into their own vehicles for distribution, the rest of us lucky bastards lined up our cars and they loaded them up.  Getting it *out* of the car was a bigger problem since neither Brooke nor I are the heavy lifting types.  We tried a dolly but just ended up pinned between the box and the car on the sloping driveway.  It was hillarious- from a distance.

When I went to pay for the generator, the service rep handed me a mandatory safety bulletin from Governor Christie.  There must have been a lot of accidents after Irene especially when people plugged the generator into their electrical panel in some way.  Apparently, that’s not a good idea unless the panel has been specifically adapted for this purpose.  It turns out that when the utility power comes on when the generator is running, there is too much current flowing through the system at the junction, resulting in bad things happening.  They didn’t go into details but the word “fatalities” caught my eye.  So, those of you who are considering doing that, don’t.  Get an orange indoor/outdoor power cord and run this directly to the appliance you are trying to run.  Don’t overload your circuits and try to keep the generator dry.  That’s going to be tricky.  Ideally, the generator should be in the driveway 15 feet from the house but to keep it dry, it’s going to have to be in the garage.  I don’t know how I’m going to rig this but I’m sure Brooke and I will get our McGuiver on.

Now, I just need to get some gas.  The wind is starting to howl.  Don’t know when the lights will go out.  Could be any time now.

Hurricane Sandy: High Wind Warning

Google helpfully tells me to get out of the way

Google- it’s not just for searches anymore. Now, it issues public service announcements to the people who can’t get out of the way of Frankenstorm.  Like, you don’t already know the storm of the millenium is bearing down on you and gaining strength, now you have your search engine saying, “sucks to be you”. This is actually a first for me. I don’t remember seeing a PSA like this when I googled Irene in 2011. Alas, I am in the affected region and should expect damage to my property from sustained winds of over 40 mph.  The National Hurricane Center says I have a 30-40% probability of winds at 50 knots, which in non-sailory units is 57.5 mph. Did I mention the gigantic tree that is perilously close to my house?  No?  I’m sure I mentioned it to the townhouse association- three times.  Maybe a notification relayed through my lawyer would get its attention, though probably not before the wind begins to pick up.  The good thing is that the tree is most likely to topple into the street or take out my neighbors’ units if it does fall.  I have mixed feelings about such a possibility…

I would have to hop in my car and drive to Indiana to avoid what’s coming.  Governor Christie issued a state of emergency yesterday.  I was picking the kid up from a movie and stopped at an intersection when a convoy of cherry pickers rolled by headed south on Route 206 towards Princeton.  Not sure what that’s all about but they weren’t the utility company’s trucks.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more Hurricane Sandy related activities.

Outside, the weather is overcast for the 4th day in a row, temperature a mild 57°F.  The leaves on the trees outside are barely stirring.  It is the calm before the storm.  The latest projected landfall map is even more disturbing than yesterday.  It looks like Frankenstorm is rolling into Central New Jersey as a true hurricane and not just a tropical storm like it was yesterday.  Lovely.  And it’s hard to not take it personally when the storm seems to be perfectly curved to hit you dead on.

Will someone please tell Susie Madrak to save her 5 gallon container for drinking water? To flush your toilets, make sure to fill your bathtub with water before the storm strikes.  Then use a large pot with handle to ladle it out of the tub into your toilet.  It’s a handy tip I got from some Floridians when I rode out Hurricane Charlie in 2004.  Also, get one of these if you can.  It’s a crankable, solar flashlight radio so it never needs batteries.  It’s invaluable during storms.  Also highly recommended is a headlamp.

**************************************************

Annnnd my basement is still threatened.  For those of you who are just catching up with the Saga of RDs basement, it has only flooded once since I moved here 12 years ago.  That was last year during Hurricane Irene when the power went out.  I didn’t think it would happen again so soon so I didn’t buy a backup battery powered sump pump or a generator.  And now, there’s not a backup battery sump pump or generator to be found in the entire state of NJ…or PA….or NY.  I scoured my local Home Depot, Lowes, etc, two days ago and they were already sold out.  But there is a plumbing supplier in Princeton that is making a trip to another state tomorrow to pick up some generators and I was lucky enough to reserve one.  Unfortunately, I am not lucky enough to have a full time job anymore so this investment (it’s $840.00 plus 7% sales tax) is exceedingly painful. I hate to ask for contributions but if you’ve “enjoyed” my blogging for the past several years, you can help me defray the expense of the generator with a donation.  The recommended donation amount is $10.30 for the date of Sandy’s landfall.  Here is the paypal donation button for my “Save the Basement” fund:

Thank you for helping me weather Sandy!