If you live in one of the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico or along the east coast from Florida to Maine, itís likely that youíve experienced more than one hurricane in your lifetime. In my life, Iíve marked two important milestones with hurricanes. On the day I was born in Princeton, New Jersey, Hurricane Connie was hitting the Jersey coast. My parents drove to the hospital in torrential rain and whipping winds, and when I was born several hours later, my father joked that he wanted to name me Connie Gale, after the storm! Then, when I was five years old and ready for my first day of kindergarten, Hurricane Donna reached far enough inland to affect Princeton. I remember the driving rain and black sky. My mother and I got soaked and my motherís hat blew off as we raced into Littlebrook Elementary that morning, but I still enjoyed my first day of school!
Now I live in a rural area in the Catskills in Ulster County, New York. Iím surrounded by farmland, small towns, and many creeks and rivers that run through the countryside and down the mountains. As Hurricane Irene headed for the United States, we carefully followed the weather reports to see how the storm was tracking. The forecast was for high winds and very heavy rain in our area. To prepare, I brought in everything on my porch that could be blown away by strong winds. By the time I went to bed on Saturday night, the wind was roaring. I had never heard it so loud. My dog, Sadie, was nervous and slept on my bed all night. I have lots of very tall trees on my property, and I was worried that one of them would fall on the house during the night. But I woke up early on Sunday morning to find that although the power had gone out, no trees had fallen. I was surprised, though, to hear the sound of rushing water when I stepped outside. The creeks had turned into rushing rivers, and the pond across the street had overflowed its banks.
It turned out that my area received record amounts of rain during the storm. There was unprecedented flooding of streams, creeks, rivers and reservoirs. As the day went on, reports started coming in about local flooding. We learned that whole towns were practically underwater; houses had shifted off their foundations; homes and businesses were under several feet of mud and water. In my town, the grocery and pharmacy were severely damaged and it will take months to fix the buildings. Luckily, families and their pets were safe in shelters during the storm.
It was surprising to see so much damage to so many towns, but people immediately started rallying to help their neighbors. Fundraisers were organized to help people whose homes and businesses were destroyed. People donated cleaning products, baby food and diapers, canned food, pet supplies, and clothing. Families offered to let neighbors stay with them while their houses are repaired. Iíve been touched, but not surprised, by the outpouring of generosity that my neighbors have shown to one another. We canít control the weather, but itís nice to know that we can count on people to be there for us.
For those of you who may have been affected by Hurricane Irene, I hope you, your families and your towns have experienced this same spirit of unity and community that Iíve seen in Ulster County. And like almost everyone in the country, I have my fingers crossed for a beautiful fall and winter, with few surprises from Mother Nature.