Wrath of Sandy

North Carolinians escaped most of a vicious storm, but worried for those in the Northeast.

October 30, 2012 

On some maps Hurricane Sandy appeared to be the size of the Atlantic Ocean itself. As it closed in on the mid-Atlantic Coast and then moved inland toward Pennsylvania, this “superstorm” born of a hurricane, a powerful winter storm barreling east and full-moon high tides was described with a host of heart-pounding adjectives.

For North Carolinians, battered most recently in the summer of 2011 by Hurricane Irene, the anticipation for most proved worse than reality. The Outer Banks got hit, but the storm was pretty far off the coast. The combination of that winter storm and effects from Sandy did cause early-season heavy snowfalls in Western North Carolina and elsewhere, including West Virginia.

The most attention this state received was due to the sinking of the H.M.S. Bounty, a replica sailing vessel used in Hollywood films such as “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It sank about 90 miles southeast of Hatteras on the North Carolina coast while en route from Connecticut to St. Petersburg, Fla.

Fourteen of 16 crew members were rescued by brave, skillful U.S. Coast Guard crews flying out of their base in Elizabeth City, with another person pulled from the ocean unresponsive and pronounced dead later. The veteran captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, who apparently figured he could navigate around the storm, was still missing as of yesterday afternoon.

For those in the Northeast, anticipating the westward turn that ultimately was expected to cause billions of dollars of damage in the mid-Atlantic states and up into New England, the reality was every bit as bad as the anticipation. Many in North Carolina – folks who moved here from Northeastern states or who have professional and personal ties there – must have thought the scenes of flooded streets of New York City and the 10-, 12-, and even 13-foot seawater surges seemed more like a science fiction movie than science non-fiction.

Millions of people were displaced as the hurricane came ashore near Atlantic City, N.J. and veered in a gigantic arc toward New England. Twenty-four hours after the storm struck, reports of storm-related deaths were climbing toward 40, and it was feared the number could keep rising.

The nation’s grandest city has seen severe storms before, but on Monday evening subways flooded, airports closed, lights went out and many had a frightening fascination: watching part of a crane dangle from beside a skyscraper in Manhattan. The damage was well-documented in the media capital of the world.

The storm was at least seen coming. Those in the Northeast (and for that matter in this state) who could remember storms of decades past marveled at the precision of forecasts. That doesn’t prevent damage, but it saves lives with timely evacuations ordered by alert emergency management teams. At least the weapon of surprise has been blunted.

And such storms also remind us of the resilience of people, who even as their possessions, their cherished tangible remembrances, wash away, express gratitude for their lives. We see as well just out-and-out heroics from neighbors who help others to safety, and in the dedication, for example, of hospital workers told with the margin of an hour’s notice that they will have to move patients out of harm’s way. But they did it.

Now, in the aftermath, even as survivors return to their homes to cope with the damages, there will be more of human kindness on display. And more needed than ever before.

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