With the tens of millions of people who live between the Carolinas and Maine, Sandy was perhaps the first natural disaster that played out not only via traditional media, but also social media as well. Facebook and Twitter, as well as other social media outlets, became important tools to let friends and family know one's situation. Social media also extended the ability of news organizations to gather news with millions more eyes and ears.
Even with social media and mobile technology, there have been challenges and limitations. Places that normally would have wi-fi were often in the dark or on backup generators. Thousands and thousands of trees, poles, and power lines are either down or precariously tilted and in danger of falling. Electricity is still being restored in virtually all neighborhoods (including where some family members live), some further along than others. Schools have been closed now for over a week, although a few reopened yesterday and more are expected to do so this week.
My house got power back Saturday night and cable reception last night. Some of the video that we saw for the first time last night was overwhelming, knowing that these are familiar, nearby places. Seeing the high number of casualties on Staten Island, a place where I grew up and attended middle and high school, and where my mother still lives, is very sad. Hearing that a cousin's house in the Rockaway section of Queens suffered catastrophic damage makes it very personal - but thankfully she and her family are safe. It took several days to find out that another family member and her family were safe just a few miles inland from the Jersey shore. The lack of electricity and spotty phone reception made this uncertainty very stressful.
Gas stations have required police presence because of long lines and some tense situations. The problem appears to have been the lack of electricity for the pumps to work. We sat in line for 1 1/2 hours the other night, virtually running on empty, and that was relatively good compared to others. A family member in Florida tells me that gas stations there are required to have backup power primarily to deal with hurricanes - perhaps that is a lesson to be learned here in the northeast.
As we saw with the response to 9-11, tragedies also can bring out the best in people. On the news last night, we saw one place in Sayreville, the town in New Jersey where Bon Jovi originated three decades ago (and where I sometimes went to the movies years ago), overflowing with food and clothing donations to help those who lost everything in the storm. We saw the story of a young girl from Bergen County in New Jersey setting up a hot chocolate stand to collect money to donate for hurricane relief. Here in northern New Jersey, we see numerous utility crews from out-of-state working to get power restored and being extremely grateful that these individuals are away from their families for days or weeks in an effort to make things better here. This humanity and decency to others is one bright spot in an otherwise awful situation, and hopefully something upon which we can build and rebuild in the days, months, and years ahead.