Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Hurricane Sandy 10 Years Later

It was 10 years year ago, on October 29, that my wife and I escaped our Moonachie home chest high in water carrying our two beagles on our shoulders. There are many things in my life that I will never forget but this day will live with me every time I hear a threatening weather report, watch the rain flood local streets and even worse, see the results on the news of another terrible storm or natural disaster

 The look of shock on the faces of our scared and frightened neighbors, the images of their once happy homes now just about destroyed, will forever never leave me. Children crying taken away in boats, fish swimming down the middle of the street, no power, no homes and nowhere to go, a bad horror movie being played out in real time. For many that horror show continues on like the monster that never really dies, just waiting in the shadows to comeback another day when you least expect it.

That day we managed to physically escape the most horrific natural disaster of my lifetime. However, emotionally, it still holds me captive, never really being able to escape, just waiting for the next shoe to drop one day again when all seems quiet and calm.

I can remember elected officials, government agencies and many others coming up with nifty sayings, like “Build back Better,”  which, by the way, they are already saying in Florida when reporters ask elected officials if they should build again in coastal wetlands. “Sandy Strong” is another, which kind of makes me laugh, and there are some others that I am sure slipped my mind over the last 10 years. And yes, while many folks have had the opportunity to raise their homes and built back better in reality, not much has changed for most people. Many promises have fallen short and our vulnerability is still very much there waiting for the next catchphrase they think will get us to avoid paying attention to the real problems.

A reporter recently asked me what has changed in my neighborhood since Sandy. “No Trees,” I answered. There was silence on the other end of the phone. “No Trees?” the reported replied. No, I said, the trees that didn’t fall victim to Sandy didn’t survive the homeowners and insurance companies that added insult to injury, now leaves us even more susceptible to flooding, and of course also removed many of the bird species that once graced my hometown.

I guess no one came up with a saying for saving trees after Sandy. Just thinking about it, we could probably use a good marketing firm to tell us that we should never have built in natural areas that actually control flooding in the first place, but that would be too much to ask.

I thought Hurricane Sandy would be our wake-up call to finally put the climate change debate behind us. After all, Mother Nature gave us a slap upside the head, and just like a good mother she demanded we pay attention. She gave us her stern reminder about who was really in charge on that horrific night, and it wasn’t us.

We need to finally make the commitment to face climate change and make some difficult decisions for our future. Save and protect our existing wetlands, return what land we can back to nature and accept the fact that nature has put us on notice: live with her in harmony or face the awful consequences.

See You in the Meadowlands

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