I have never been close to a natural disaster before. I’ve watched tornadoes and earthquakes on television. I’ve seen images from Haiti, Japan and New Orleans. But it’s been removed, observed through the filter of a camera and a news anchor’s commentary. It hasn’t been in my back yard.
I posted a couple of nights ago about all the hurricane hype I heard last week. I still believe that it is not necessary to continually talk about pending weather. I also believe that the media should provide more practical information and stop instilling fear in everyone. But it’s obvious that Hurricane / Tropical Storm Irene was worthy of some warning.
I didn’t think this was the case on Sunday night. In fact, I had a rather nice day. Because of the rain, there was no pressure to go out, exercise or do much of anything at all. I read, wrote and just enjoyed being home with little to do. The tv and internet stayed on and the power only went off for a half an hour.
When I went to bed that night, I actually felt a little disappointed. I thought, “Is that it?” I was expecting more drama.
Be careful what you wish for. While I was safe and content Irene had other plans for my neighbors.
I later learned that just one town over, a historic covered bridge was ripped in two by a river. One of the most prestigious restaurants in the region was destroyed.
Further to the North, roads washed away, homes were swallowed whole and towns became islands with no way in or out.
Across the state line, the area’s shopping centers were underwater. Chain stores like Kohl’s, Staples, CVS and Kmart will be closed indefinitely, putting hundreds of people out of work.
It is an odd feeling to be warm and dry in my home. To go to work every day like nothing has happened, while people across the state are suddenly homeless.
It’s strange to be sitting on my couch right now, eating a bowl of ice cream, watching tennis and writing a blog post while less than a mile away, people are sitting on emergency shelter cots located in the gymnasium where I graduated from high school.
For the first time I understand survivor’s guilt.
I suppose a better person would get up off the couch and pitch in. Help with the clean up or deliver food. But I feel paralyzed by inaction. There is so much tragedy, it’s hard to know where to start.
I’ve always known that this area of New England was sharply divided. Between the rich and the poor. Between the people who choose to move here and the people who grew up here and just stayed.
And now between the people who are unscathed and the people whose lives were changed forever on Sunday.
I finally understand the true meaning of the words surreal and luck.
On a lighter note, this storm is also the first time that I have experienced the power of Facebook and other social networking sites.
I heard about the phenomenon with the riots in Egypt and other parts of the world. The news told us that rebels communicated both within their ranks and with the outside world on Twitter. But to me they were still just places to see baby pictures and share funny stories.
This weekend the first images of the damage caused by Irene were on Facebook. My “friends” broke the news. First there was a video of the covered bridge, then a picture of a raging river. And then they were everywhere. One person would post, then their friends and their friends. It was overwhelming.
And these photos couldn’t be found on the news. It’s not that the stations weren’t trying, they were just hampered by big cameras and limited resources. They couldn’t be everywhere and the footage couldn’t be aired until the newscast. Facebook was widespread and instantaneous.
At first, I didn’t trust the information I was receiving on Facebook. After all, things can get grossly exaggerated when they go viral.
My first thought when I saw the video of the bridge was that it looked worse than it was. The rumor did start out saying that the bridge was washed away completely, which turned out to be untrue. I thought the angle was made it more dramatic and the amateur videographer unwittingly exaggerated it somehow. But as more images appeared, I realized Facebook was a reliable source of information.
Now some of the most vivid images I’ve seen of the damage have been posted by a friend of a friend of a friend.
Twitter has not been as a helpful in disseminating information in this case. I read somewhere, probably on Twitter, that Facebook is for people who like to brag and Twitter is for people who like to complain. I don’t know if I believe that exactly, but over the past few days Facebook has been more informative. Maybe it’s just that I know more people on Facebook. Or that it’s harder to give good information in just one hundred and forty characters.
People have posted not only photos on Facebook, but links to websites and other helpful facts. On Monday morning, I couldn’t find out if the roads between home and work were open. The news reports didn’t tell me, I couldn’t find a website that would tell me. But a Facebook friend knew.
I don’t consider myself old, but I didn’t grow up with computers and smart phones. I like to think that I’ve embraced technology. I love my iPhone and use a computer all day, every day at work. I appreciate social networking sites for reconnecting with old friends, for fun and as useful ways to market shows.
But suddenly its immediacy and wide reach makes Facebook an invaluable tool.
Irene changed my attitudes about a lot of things this past weekend. Even though I’m one of the lucky ones, the world looks different now.