Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

     As a staff photographer at The Mercury, I keep an eye on the weather every day.  I try to plan ahead so that I'm prepared for an approaching storm. I charge up my laptop, cell phone and camera batteries. Get out my rain gear and place everything within easy reach. Candles and flash lights are set out for power outages. Now all I can do is wait for Hurricane Sandy.
View of the Schuylkill River before the hurricane. It never overflowed its banks.
     I fire up the computer or check the weather on my cell phone looking at news updates and satellite images to see what NOAA is predicting for the storm. As the hurricane churned through Cuba and the Caribbean causing destruction and loss of life, I started to follow the advancing cyclone more closely. I watch The Weather Channel on television but not much of the local news stations. I have many weather apps and news sources that I follow.
     Most residents took this storm seriously as it tracked pretty much as predicted. On the days leading up to the storm hitting our area, I moved things around in my downstairs rec room in case we got the 8 to 12 inches of rain they were calling for. It's not like I get water when it rains but with that much expected over the next day or two I would rather try to prepare then to work through a mess later.
The Wagner's move furniture in North Coventry Township.
     On Sunday morning, I met up with reporter Brandie Kessler at the office and we cruised the neighborhoods along the Schuylkill River looking for residents who were taking belonging to higher ground. We saw Howard Wagner Sr. and son Howie Jr. moving furniture and appliances out of his home on Riverside Dr. in North Coventry Township. Howard Sr. talked about how nice it is living there when he wasn't worrying about the river. But he said it gets old moving things as you get older. Luckily for him the river didn't rise above flood stage.
     I shot photos of sangbags piled in front of doorways at the Montgomery County Community College which sits near the banks of the Manatawny Creek. Also snapped pictures of municpal trucks filled with barricades and stop signs ready to be moved to locations where power outages would occur. Checking late in the day, I saw that the hurricane was going to make a direct hit on New Jersey and it was so big that New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania would feel Sandy's worst.
Traffic light works after damage in Pottstown.
     A steady rain fell but nothing like expected in the tri-county. By 10 p.m. the gale force winds howled into our local coverage area. None of the nor'easters or hurricanes we have experienced have brought that strong of winds where we live. Our lights flickered but remained on through the night. But at midnight the rain gutter on our house pulled loose and banged over the roof and bent around the chimney. I went outside and gusts made it difficult to get the twisted metal off the roof. I grabbed the gutter and pulled and the wind caught hold and slammed it onto the ground. I tucked it into an area of the deck where it couldn't blow around and cause anymore damage.
     This was the only problem we had on our property and it was very minor compared to what happened at the shore. I was watching updates on twitter and monitored fire and emergency stations to see where damage and incidents were happening most of the night. Locally, trees were falling in every town and township knocking out power to thousands of homes.
      When I saw images from the shore and in New York City, I knew we had dodged the worst. The wind whipped storm damaged homes and entire towns on the New Jersey barrier islands were flooded. NYC was brought to a standstill as power failed and darkened the city. Water flooded the subways, tunnels and low lying areas and an inferno burned over a hundred homes in Queens. My little gutter pales as a minor little irritation and I'm thankful that the roof didn't blow off during the height of the storm.
     By morning I was out at first light and reporter Kessler was with me. The first location we stopped was on Park Court in Pottstown where a huge oak tree fell onto the Sutton family home damaging the roof. This turned out to be the front page lead photo. It was the telling shot of what happened throughout our coverage area. And locally it's what our readers want to see.
Snapped poles and wires in Linfield.
     We stopped at many locations tweeting photos and video for followers and to readers on our website whenever we could get a cell phone signal. Utility poles were splintered under the weight of fallen trees. Electric lines were a tangled mess and we talked to chilly residents without power most understanding the magnitude of the repair job ahead for linemen.
     My daughter Kelli, son-in-law Andy, their two children and two dogs were without power for several days and ended up at our house until the electric lines were repaired. During the 2011 'Snowtober' event around Halloween last year their power was out seven days.
     So it was up to me to spoil the grand kids during their stay with snacks, drinks and playtime. Three year old Lydia was sitting on my lap in her Cinderella costume and we were watching Dora the Explorer. Her mother informed her it was time for bed. We pleaded our case to let us finish watching the episode and her mom agreed saying 'Poppy we aren't going to start this are we?' I just smiled back giving little girl a hug.
     Andy's parents live year-round on Long Beach Island and the family also has rental properties.  They are still waiting to get onto to the island to assess all the damage but was informed by Andy's brother Dustin that their homes withstood the hurricane. Dustin works for the municipality and rode the storm out in Beach Haven and watched helplessly as the storm surge from the ocean pushed water across the island to the bay. He stayed behind so he could help with emergency cleanup the following day.
Downed tree smashed the roof at the Sutton home in Pottstown.
     After a nerve wracking night the flood water subsided and left behind tons of sand everywhere in its wake. He went to work along with others and began plowing deep heavy sand from roadways to cut paths so that the utility crews, township officials and emergency personnel could access the damage and begin repairs. In a video he posted, I saw huge piles of sand heaped up over six feet along the roads as far as you could see. 
     Many local homes have been reconnected to the power grid and lights again shine at night across our area. But, it may be a long time until things return to normal for families hit hardest and begin rebuilding their lives in the northeast.