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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Randi Kreiss
Salvaging the bones on storm-tossed shores

What I saw: lines of people, bundled against the cold, gas containers in hand, waiting, shuffling their feet to keep warm, waiting even longer than they thought possible for enough gasoline to get their cars going. This looked less like the community I know and more like a scene from “The Road,” a post-apocalyptic novel about the end of the world.

As we repair our roofs, dry out our basements and restock our food supplies, we teeter, trying to find our footing, knowing that something deeply rooted in our psyches has shifted. The hurricane, followed fast by the snowstorm, has destroyed our property and destabilized our day-to-day routines. Our sense of confidence in a benign future is shaken.

Beaches are gone. Landmarks have washed out to sea. Homes are wrecked, along with the lifelong memories stored in photographs and books and family treasures. Even as we get back to normal, we know that the long, violent path of the storms has left scars.

The trauma has helped us find the best in ourselves. All of us with heat and electricity have reached out to friends and family. As we go to press, strangers are still living with neighbors they never knew before the storm. Children are bunking with cousins and friends of friends. Everyone has a story to tell, and in the stories we are writing the history of our time. Someday the 5- and 6-year-olds will tell their grandchildren about the hurricane of 2012, when the city’s tunnels were flooded and Staten Island lay in ruins. We have the photographs to prove it — the boats on high ground, the tree limbs crushing roofs and cars.

We’ve heard the bad news, too, about looting in some areas. Someone I know said she put bullets in the shotgun she keeps in her house. There was the horror of two little boys swept away by the Staten Island storm surge after a man refused to open the door of his house to them and their mother. There were anguished complaints about the long lines for gasoline and justified frustration with the power company. If you sit for too many nights in the dark and the cold, your strength, and even your hope, begin to ebb. I hope that by the time we go to press, the lights up and down Long Island will be on.

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