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NOVEMBER 2012: Coming through Hurricane Sandy with life, pets and home intact has left me with a small case of survivor's guilt and many good lessons learned.

Living with Extreme Weather
Prepare—there's more to come

For the second time in a little over a year, I had to evacuate for an oncoming hurricane.

You see, I live a block from the water's edge in Lower Manhattan in "Evacuation Zone A." Areas in this zone are at risk from flooding in any hurricane, large or small; hence, the evacuation orders for Hurricane Sandy last month and Hurricane Irene the year before.

Does the double hit on New York—a place never before known as a hurricane hot spot—have something to do with climate change? Scientists say it's unlikely, though climate change probably played a role in the devastation. Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg say the climate change connection is clear and the time to act is now.

My neighborhood was lucky both times out. The storm surge this year was just three feet above street level, flooding basements and wrecking our beloved waterfront park, but otherwise doing little structural damage.

Still, our neighborhood didn't escape scot-free. Power was out for days, here and throughout all of Lower Manhattan, and some unfortunates lost it for weeks. Others were forced to relocate "until further notice" due to saltwater corrosion in their building's wiring.

In fact, no one in the region was wholly unaffected. Even upper Manhattanites with uninterrupted power found themselves without transit or gasoline, let alone a route off the island after bridges and tunnels closed. The flow of food into the city was stopped as well.

Obviously, this kind of hardship can't compare with losing a home or, heaven forbid, a loved one, but it's serious, scary and disruptive all the same.

I, myself, spent two days without power at my brother's place, followed by four more days at home. The one thing I can say for the experience is that it was educational. Let me tell you some of the things I learned.
  1. Water, non-perishable food, flashlights and batteries sell out quickly before a big storm. Provision yourself early and help elderly relatives do the same—or, better yet, invite them to your home.

  2. A crank radio is invaluable in an emergency, enabling you to keep tabs on the news even if your batteries run out.

  3. Cell service may be affected. Keep a land line and make sure you have a phone that works without electricity.

  4. Fill your car with gas in advance.

  5. If power in the area goes, you may have to pay for everything with the cash you have on hand. Withdraw enough from the bank to last you.

  6. Follow mandatory evacuation orders, despite the difficulties and expense. Having seen what happened to some of those who stayed put in Zone A, I have no question that evacuating is the wisest course. Get a go bag ready just in case.

  7. If you have pets, make a pet disaster plan now. They are unlikely to survive if you leave them behind in an evacuation. We boarded ours at our vet's office, which is located just outside the evacuation zone. Though the vet lost power, our animals received loving care and returned home safe, sound and happy.

  8. Most emergency guides advise against using candles because of the risk of fire, but if you decide to use them anyway, try Jewish yarzheit candles. They burn for 24 hours and sit in thick glass jars, which makes them safer than other kinds. Note that no candles are safe enough for unattended use or use when winds are high.
I also learned some things of a different nature from my Sandy experience.
  1. Natural light is enough for most daily tasks if you position yourself near a window.

  2. Living without heat is managable if (A) your home is properly insulated, (B) you layer your clothes, (C) you have warm blankets and (D) you keep active. By the way, D comes easier when electronic entertainment is unavailable.

  3. If you're healthy and young (or even middle-aged like me), there's no reason not to walk two miles to the store and back—or to and from work—except that your life probably isn't organized to allow for the time. Maybe it's something we ought to make time for. Walking can be as good for the mind as the heart.

  4. Good walking shoes make shopping by foot much easier. So does a backpack. Side benefit: it's reusable.

  5. The library can be a great resource—for news, information, community programs and, as I discovered during the days after Sandy, power.
With climate change continuing unabated, we can expect more ferocious storms and other extreme weather events in years to come. Prepare yourself to get through them safely—and speak out for a clean energy future to get climate change under control.

—Sheryl Eisenberg


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Lower Manhattan street in Hurricane Sandy blackout

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On This Topic


Crank radio
KEEP A CRANK RADIO ON HAND for emergencies. News is a lifeline when the weather is rough and the power goes out. The most versatile models include a solar cell, run on batteries and double as a flashlight and cellphone recharger.




Cat
PROTECT YOUR PETS. If you need to evacuate, so do they. Plan for the possibility in advance or you may find yourself without a place to bring them. Stock up on pet food and kitty litter, if needed, whether you're evacuating or staying in place. Also make sure you have water for your pets. The ASPCA offers guidelines.




Off switch
COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE on a daily basis by wasting less energy. Turn the lights off and unplug chargers when they're not in use. Insulate your house. Get Energy Star equipment. Buy a fuel-efficient car. Use appliances less and your hands and feet more. See my blog for other climate saving suggestions.




Resources


Union of Concerned Scientists
Is Global Warming Linked to Severe Weather?

NRDC
2012 Extreme Weather

Scientific American
Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy?

New York Daily News
We Will Lead on Climate Change

NRDC
Should NYC Build a Storm Surge Barrier?

The New York Times
Protecting the City, Before Next Time

NRDC
Natural Disasters: Be Aware, Be Prepared



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Sheryl Eisenberg is a writer, web developer and long-time advisor to NRDC. With her firm, Mixit Productions (mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where—along with her children, Sophie and Gabe, and husband, Peter—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.