On Sunday, Oct. 28, I carefully listened to the weather reports. A superstorm was predicted to make landfall in my backyard at the Jersey Shore. Being originally from Alabama, I do not take storms lightly as I know the wrath they can produce, but I found myself unprepared. Early in the afternoon, I heard several alarming knocks on my apartment door. It was the Long Branch, N.J., police, and the officer passed a mandatory evacuation notice under my door, which called for me to leave the building by 4 p.m.
The storm was expected the following evening, and I had no idea where I would go. I did not have family nearby, and my friends lived in neighboring beach towns and other low-lying areas. Shelters were available but not accepting pets, and this was simply not an option for me. I stayed one more night at home to collect my thoughts and belongings before finally opting for a hotel room in Edison, N.J. The hotel was further inland (and one of the very few with rooms available), so I snuck my dog in the back door via tote bag and hoped for the best.
The electricity went out at almost the precise moment the storm was predicted to make landfall. We took the media’s advice, hunkered down and waited for the storm to pass.
As the morning sun rose, I couldn’t help but overhear my neighbor at the hotel sobbing. They had lost everything and were frantically trying to get in touch with the loved ones they left behind. My heart sank. I peered out of my hotel-room door to see a crib and family that had called the hallway home for the night.
As I assessed the area around my hotel, there did not appear to be much damage. I counted my blessings.
On Oct. 31, after staying in a dark hotel room with no lights, heat or hot water for two days, I decided it was time to leave and began my journey home. It really wasn’t until this moment that I was able to realize the devastation Superstorm Sandy left in her path. Trees were torn in half and uprooted, power lines dangled dangerously and Halloween had officially been cancelled. As I approached the shore, it worsened. Beach towns were washed away, boardwalks demolished and sand covered the streets. Police patrolled the coastline directing people to leave, and my hometown frighteningly resembled a war zone.
My apartment complex on the beach was still under a mandatory evacuation notice, but I managed to talk the security guard into allowing me into my building to “collect some belongings.” Having nowhere else to go, I forged my way through the pitch-black hallways and camped out for the night. Yes, I officially added squatting to my resume at that point.
The next morning, I got a call that my office had electricity, so I began my voyage to work. Much to my dismay, I realized my car was almost out of gas. I managed to find a gas station not too far from home where I waited in line for just over an hour. As I waited patiently, I observed a glorious sight. A fleet of angels was rapidly approaching. They were armed with buckets and cranes and donned electric-company names from all over the United States. Among the hundreds was my old friend, Alabama Power. I beamed with pride.
I finally met up with my Thermphos family in Red Bank, N.J., and was happy to see that everyone was in attendance and seemed to be doing well considering the circumstances. We warmed up, drank some coffee and tried to take advantage of the normalcy that the workday offered us. I planned to return to my apartment for the evening (still without electricity, hot water or city authorization), and this became my routine for the next few days.
Saturday finally came, and I decided I couldn’t stand my desolate, powerless apartment any longer. I went into the office. It was nice to warm up, and there was a TV for entertainment. The Alabama-LSU football game was kicking off at 8 p.m., and I was in need of a game plan. The mandated curfew was 7 p.m., so watching it at a restaurant or bar was not an option. I had to think quickly, so I did what any good Southern girl would do. I slept over at the office in order to catch the game.
I was awakened very early by the cleaning crew, which was quite surprised to find me in the office at 5:30 on a Sunday morning. Becoming more and more frustrated with my vagabond status and the impending winter blizzards, I decided I had enough. I waived the white flag and booked a flight home to sweet Alabama.
Though I was fortunate, many were not so lucky. New Jersey has been truly devastated by this disaster. People’s lives were forever changed as the wind and sea placed their claims, and yet there remains a beautiful strength and determination of the community that should inspire hope in us all. The sense of family in this area is tremendous. The people of New Jersey welcomed me into their lives with open hearts and arms. They adopted my love for college football, accepted my passion for fried food and even occasionally exercised the use of “y’all,” in casual conversation.
Jersey is my Alabama of the north, and I hope my Alabama family will show them the same generosity they have shown me by supporting the crisis recovery.
Jaime Miller, a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville State University, lives in Long Branch, N.J., where she manages North American operations for Thermphos USA. She is the daughter of Janet Miller, Anniston Star multimedia sales executive.