Friday, September 2, 2011

Irene's Aftermath

Right now, you can't take a walk more than half a block without running into the debris from fallen trees. While the damage here isn't as bad as it could have been, there is enough to provide stressful conditions for many residents. Entire oak trees--including their lengthy root systems--were torn out of the ground and took with them sidewalks, driveways, porches, roofs, corners of houses, fences, et cetera. Down the street we have cars whose tops have been crushed into the passenger space. Houses are missing chimneys and gutters. Power is just now being restored to homes here. Roads in many places are still cordoned off from entry due to rubble.

We were lucky. While gas stations and stores have been operating on limited hours if at all in many locations, not far from the house commercial business remained unaffected and likely thrived from customers seeking not just a place to eat while the home kitchen was powerless, but an air-conditioned environment. My kids watch the tree surgeons hoist and dangle themselves from trees and cranes from a safe distance. The smell and dust of cut wood has been heavy in the air here, to the point where I have had to clean the furniture and floors multiple times this week to keep the outdoors out. But we have been comfortable, exceedingly so, in a house that somehow remained unaffected by 95 mph winds.

When my daughter was little, she rode with me through the debris of Hurricane Katrina. She recalls being scared by the houses on the Gulf Coast looking like sagging spiders for the first floors that washed away leaving  the supports of a broken second story. I remember, and just saw again, the empty acres that once held neighborhoods. In New Orleans, my daughter covered her eyes from the black, empty windows and doorways of homes that had sat in a rancid stew of flood water for three weeks, the yards littered with smashed shutters and glass, upturned cars, boats in odd angles on city streets. I had determined then that I wouldn't again, if luxury allowed, expose her to such a horror.

My husband has been troubled by news about towns in the Northeast, particularly one in Vermont, a washed-away mountain-side community--homes, roads, playgrounds, stores crushed and gone. Locals fretted that there were community members trapped in their homes (or what might be left of them) from a swelling river in places where roads had eroded with the force of Irene. I write this as a chainsaw buzzes in the background, as a helicopter putters overhead, as my children play in a cooled and cleaned home. I am thankful for a civilization that was only damaged, not eradicated. And as a new storm named Katia begins to boil in the Atlantic, her path yet to be determined, I hold my breath.

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