Hurricane 101 for New Yorkers

For those of us used to “snow events,” waiting for a hurricane is a lot like waiting for a blizzard.

Grocery shelves are emptied of bread and milk. Flashlights and containers of water are set out in case the power is cut. The vigil begins for the latest weather updates, either on TV or online.

The mounting anticipation becomes as much of an event as the storm itself. That was particularly true for those of us in New York City, where people living closed to the water were urged, for the first time ever, to evacuate; where all public transportation came to a screeching halt hours before Hurricane Irene arrived; where the local Starbucks shut down and where roads seem to close one by one.

And, since this particular storm was to fall mainly on a Sunday, there were advisories, from people such as the New York Catholic Archbishop and New Jersey United Methodist Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, telling congregants to heed public safety warnings, as Devadhar noted, “even if it means not to have worship services on Sunday.”

That may seem like a no-brainer, especially given the lack of transportation options. But gathering in community is what we do, particularly in times of disaster.

In New York City, at least several United Methodist congregations decided in advance to connect in other ways on Sunday. New Day members in the Bronx were able to worship by video, phone or on Facebook Sunday morning. The Church of the Village in Manhattan arranged for its members to “gather in prayer by phone.”

By Sunday afternoon, we knew that “the worst” had not happened, although the winds on the backside of the storm were strong. A walk around my Bronx neighborhood revealed little visible damage, aside from a few downed trees. The Henry Hudson Parkway, in front of my building, officially reopened. Speculation began over what the Monday morning commute would be like and how soon buses and subway trains would be running again.

For most of us in the city, Irene had less of an impact than last year’s Christmas blizzard. But it didn’t take long to discover that we were the lucky ones.

The city of Yonkers, just north of my neighborhood, had widespread flooding, along with other towns up the Hudson. A large stretch of the Saw Mill Parkway, which I frequently drive, remained closed on Monday. A bit farther upstate, the student union and main administration building at the State University of New York, New Paltz, where my son moved in a week ago as a freshman, had flood damage.

What really broke my heart was learning about what has been called “catastrophic” flash flooding in the small towns of Fleischmanns and Margaretville (which has a United Methodist church) in the Catskills. We have friends with a second home in that area and have visited those towns on several occasions. While the sight of water flowing like a river down Margaretville’s main street may make for compelling video, it is an economic disaster for a region that already is struggling.

That’s where we, as United Methodists, come together in community once more. From the Carolinas to New England, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the denomination’s annual conferences will be assisting those who didn’t escape Irene’s wrath.Donations for disaster response can be made to U.S. Disaster Response Advance number 901670 – Hurricanes 2011.

For those of us used to “snow events,” waiting for a hurricane is a lot like waiting for a blizzard.

Grocery shelves are emptied of bread and milk. Flashlights and containers of water are set out in case the power is cut. The vigil begins for the latest weather updates, either on TV or online.

The mounting anticipation becomes as much of an event as the storm itself. That was particularly true for those of us in New York City, where people living closed to the water were urged, for the first time ever, to evacuate; where all public transportation came to a screeching halt hours before Hurricane Irene arrived; where the local Starbucks shut down and where roads seem to close one by one.

And, since this particular storm was to fall mainly on a Sunday, there were advisories, from people such as the New York Catholic Archbishop and New Jersey United Methodist Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, telling congregants to heed public safety warnings, as Devadhar noted, “even if it means not to have worship services on Sunday.”

That may seem like a no-brainer, especially given the lack of transportation options. But gathering in community is what we do, particularly in times of disaster.

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