Trick or treaters, sirens and gas shortages

Photo of a Halloween trick-or-treater, Redford...
Photo of a Halloween trick-or-treater, Redford, Michigan, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this — sitting on a friend’s sofa who has power and wi-fi — I hear two sounds, the wailing of sirens and the calls of little kids out trick or treating in their Hallowe’en costumes.

But I also heard a third lovely sound, the rumble of the commuter train once more heading north.

Life post-Sandy is weird indeed.

I went out today for a business lunch and had a great three-hour meeting with a potentially really interesting and valuable client. The restaurant was full, the lights on, the music playing, the food delicious.

Then it took me 30 minutes to drive back to my town, normally about a 10 minute journey, because the line-ups for the very few gas stations that are open right now stretch for miles.

The New York City marathon got cancelled today, the idea of starting the race on Staten Island — where they are still digging bodies out of the rubble — too offensive for many people to stomach. From CBS News:

The New York City Marathon was canceled Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after mounting criticism that this was not the time for a race while the region is still recovering from superstorm Sandy.

With people in storm-ravaged areas still shivering without electricity and the death toll in New York City at more than 40, many New Yorkers recoiled at the prospect of police officers being assigned to protect a marathon on Sunday.

An estimated 40,000 runners from around the world had been expected to take part in the 26.2-mile event. The race had been scheduled to start in Staten Island, one of the hardest-hit areas by this week’s storm.

“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it,” the mayor said in a statement. “We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event — even one as meaningful as this — to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.”

I read friends’ posts on-line and hear horrific tales: exploding cars, homes on Long Island and New Jersey utterly destroyed, people putting up old, ill family members in their tiny apartment, the sudden value of a camper’s headlamp for reading and getting safely around a darkened home. (We have two. Yay!)

The challenges now are:

1) stay warm, dry, bathed, fed, safe, connected; 2) making sure your vehicle has enough gas; 3) not driving to make sure the gas you have lasts; 4) checking up on neighbors to make sure they are OK and offering them whatever help you can that they need, from sharing your fridge to using your power and/or wi-fi.

What’s really interesting is how (we pray, oh, how we pray) this terrible disaster may also affect the Presidential election, which is scheduled for November 6, only a few days away. There is a video clip making the rounds of Mitt Romney saying how immoral FEMA is. Perfect!

FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

You’re right…what were we thinking? Disaster relief is for losers and government-dependent leeches, says dear Mittens.

It’s hard right now know what to focus on — work? friends? groceries? gas?

I’m still doing as much of my work as I can, checking in with clients and sources in Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida and Toronto. But it feels surreal and annoying to have to do any work at all when we all feel so disrupted and ill at ease.

Yet it’s good to be able to keep the machinery moving, to send an invoice and be able to deposit a check. My friend needs to find a new job and get some freelance work lined up and a week without Internet or power means another week of financial anxiety.

I hear a woman on her cellphone say: “I have no idea what time it is anymore. I feel like a cavewoman.”

I suspect there’s a lot of that right now.

The “Go Bag” That Stayed

Detroit, Michigan. Cub Scouts with flag standa...
How prepared can you really ever be? Image via Wikipedia

Ever since 9/11, New Yorkers near the city have been urged to keep a “go bag” at the ready, packed in case we need to flee within minutes.



The roads and airports would be clogged and I have no doubt, if things were really crazy and out of control — a nuclear accident, say, from the plant a few miles upriver, the one we can see from our bedroom — that violence and mayhem would ensue, so the best thing to pack might be a gun and ammo. But, I digress.

In anticipation of Hurricane Irene and a possible need to run, fast, to shelter — hello, blue sky! — we packed a shared duffel bag. We have no kids, pets or elderly we needed to worry about, so it was just our stuff.

In my half were: a nice bar of soap, Filofax, Kindle, jewelry box, small white bear of 50 years’ vintage, passport and green card…and, oh yeah, clothes, socks, underwear.

It’s an interesting moment to think hard about you must absolutely take with you and what you must — the other 99% of your belongings — leave behind.

What would you take?

Ten Years Ago Today, Up To 30,000 Venezuelans Died In A Landslide — The Day I Left Caracas

Ten years later, many Venezuelans are still suffering their version of Hurricane Katrinadestroyed homes and little hope of help anytime soon.

“It had rained non-stop for two weeks,” says Luis Martinez as he remembers the days leading up to the mudslides of 1999.

On 15 December 10 years ago, Venezuela suffered its worst natural disaster of modern times when a wall of water, boulders and debris came down the side of the Avila mountain.

“If you were in its way, God help you,” said the father of four, who still lives in Vargas, the worst-affected state.

Residents pick their way through debris in the town of Macuto, also hit by the floods on 21 December 1999

The 1999 floods swept away many buildings

The exact number killed in the tragedy is hard to know, as many bodies were buried under the mud or washed into the sea.

But there are estimates that between 10,000 and 30,000 people lost their lives. Tens of thousands more were made homeless.

I left Venezuela that morning, more frightened than I’d ever been while traveling in my life. I’d been to 37 countries, often alone but never, luckily, caught in a natural disaster. I was there with my friend Gabi, at the end of an incredibly fun week. We’d been to Caracas, to the tiny mountain town of Jaji and out to the Caribbean islands of Los Roques.

We had flown as couriers from New York City, our airfares $300 round-trip on United; being a courier means you don’t have a fare in hand until they hand it to you at the check-in counter as you trade your luggage allowance for their ticket. It means, as we discovered, you’re well and truly screwed as desperate people scrambled to flee in any way possible.

I awoke that morning to a rainfall the likes of which I — and millions of others — had never seen before. My flight home was at 8:00 a.m. and I had to be there by 6:00 a.m, a mere 10 miles or so down the coastal highway from our hotel. I was leaving alone, Gabi the next day. The taxi was really late and I started to panic. I had to make that flight.

It finally arrived, drove a few miles into a sight I will never forget — a six-lane highway entirely flooded. A lake of filthy, opaque brown water. God only knew what lay beneath it — above us, the steep muddy hillsides lay bare after many homes, and their inhabitants, had slid down them. I had never seen anything so terrifying, nor been caught in the middle of it, as potentially vulnerable to becoming trapped in the chaos as any one of those poverty-stricken shanty-town inhabitants. There was nothing to do but pray I could make it to the airport in time to make my plane.

I sat in the cab, watching the filthy water leak through the doors, filling up its floor, staining the hem of my long cotton dress. The cab got a flat tire and the driver changed it, even in a downpour. He gave up after a few miles and I ran, lugging my suitcase, to a bus stop and got onto a bus that went only a few miles, and not to the airport, only into Caracas. Grace of God brought another taxi in time.

I made my flight with nine minutes to spare. Gabi was stuck behind. We didn’t know if she was alive or dead for days as cellphone service did not work. She had to cover her nose and mouth to block the smell of dead bodies, was rescued by the Venezuelan navy and finally managed to get to Aruba from where she flew home, at her own expense.

Say a prayer for these families. They have lived through hell.