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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – To say the we here in Massachusetts dodged a bullet this week would be a huge understatement. Had hurricane Sandy made its westward turn just a few hours later, it would have plowed straight into Central Massachusetts, instead of New York and New Jersey, and the scene around us would look vastly different than it does today. Yes, we lost a few trees, and the sign at Old Shrewsbury Village lost a few pieces, but is there anyone here that is actually watching CNN all day, as I have been, transfixed to the absolute devastation just a few hours to our south.
I admit that as a New Jersey native, I am not in any way objective here. I grew up hanging out at the Jersey shore, and those beaches and amusement park rides that you see on television floating in the ocean, carny as they may be, provided the canvas on which my whole life was painted. Whether I was a six year old hanging out with my grandparents at the Seaside pool, or a guitar playing high schooler sneaking into the Stone Pony to see the house band, only to have a very young Springsteen show up and play a set, these places were my childhood, and they are gone forever, as if the hand of God came down and just erased them from the map. As NJ Governor Christy said, “they will rebuild but they will never be the same.”
There is no way that any homeowner could be prepared for the complete devastation that comes with having your home washed over by a 20 foot wave and deposited in pieces a mile away, and that’s not what I wanted to speak about in this article. Rather, I’d like to talk a bit about what my family is going through down there. I have, by a conservative estimate, 30-50 family members living in different parts of the state. They are miles in from the shoreline, so thank goodness all of their homes are safe and sound with the exception of some downed trees, but as of last night only one of them had electrical power, and a few had drinkable water. They live in the suburbs far from the destruction you see on television, but there is no power throughout most of central and souther New Jersey. No power means no grocery stores, no restaurants, no food of any kind, no gas stations with operating pumps, and many of the roads are impassible due to debris. They literally are living on whatever they have in their cabinets…eating the old pasta that’s been in there for months, the can of sardines that was on hand. They were able to fill the bathtubs up with water during the storm, and that is the current water supply.
In their communities, neighbors are getting together to pool their resources and share whatever they have in terms of food and supplies. Mind you, this isn’t in some poverty stricken area of the state, but in a relatively well heeled towns analagous to Westboro, Southboro or Shrewsbury. As one of them told me this morning, it literally, and figuratively is like living in the dark ages. Over the next few days, they hope to have the roads cleared enough for the grocery stores in the towns a half hour away to restock their shelves, and then they will try to make their way over to wait in food lines. I’ve offered to head down with food and supplies, as well as my generator, but they indicated that the roads are still closed in many areas, and they aren’t sure I could get in, so we’re all waiting. So far, not one of them has seen anyone from any state or federal agency, because those people are all heading to the shore towns that were destroyed in the hopes of rescuing those who are still trapped.
My point is that what they are going through is what we would possibly be seeing in the event that the same thing happened along the Massachusetts coast, taking out power to the state, and leaving communities in shambles. As aid rushed to the coast, we here in the central part of the state would still be in the dark, without access to food or supplies. Within 72 hours, even those who have generators will have run out of fuel, and then what? When the ice storm hit a few years ago, friends of mine up in Holden and Paxton were without power for weeks, but because the storm was so isolated in scope, they could head out to Worcester or Shrewsbury for groceries, or even stay for a while with a friend in another town. That’s not an option for these folks in New Jersey because of how wide spread the situation is. When nobody has power within 30 miles of you, and even the hospital generators run out of fuel, it creates a very different situation.
What can you do about it? Well, I’ve been preaching on this stuff to my Shrewsbury friends for years. People need to be prepared to shelter in place for a week or two, in the event of a widespread emergency. You can do this in many ways, and they are all very simple and affordable. First and foremost you should have two weeks worth of food and water stored in your home at all times. It’s very easy to buy two 55 gallon plastic drums and just keep them in the basement filled with water and a capful of bleach. That will provide a good two weeks of water for a family of five. Dehydrated food has been very popular for those who deal with emergency supplies, and they have no become so common place that you can order them through Sam’s Club. Here is another great place with tons of supplies for you to choose from http://beprepared.com. They last for 10-20 years, and will provide all you need to be able to hunker down and wait for the fantastic, but slow-moving federal and state organizations to respond. Obviously, a whole house generator is a huge help. If you have natural gas available, you can get one that will switch on automatically and run off the natural gas line. Having a backup plan for that, in the event the gas system goes down, would be to use a propane or gasoline backup option. All can be done very, very affordably, and will literally be a life-saver in the case of a natural disaster like this.
I know you probably think I’m crazy (if not for this article than for countless other reasons :-), but when I speak to my friends and family members and they tell me that it’s starting to get really cold at night and they only have food for another day or so, it just underscores how important proper preparation is. It’s a gorgeous sunny day out there in Shrewsbury today, and that’s just the perfect time to prepare for the what if scenarios. Even if you can’t do each and every thing on the list, at least take the time to do a few of them. Buyer some extra canned food, maybe order a generator, and in the end keep your family safe and sound when nature strikes.