FIRST PERSON | After moving to Boulder, Colo., in 2010, I thought hurricanes were a worry of the past. As a New Jersey native, in fact, the most significant source of danger my family and I faced growing up were Nor’easters during the winter time; most hurricanes fizzle out before they reach the Jersey shore. This August, however, my wife and I were scheduled to attend a wedding in Chesapeake City, Md. Our flight in was Thursday to White Plains and we were to fly out of Philadelphia Sunday.
Hurricane Irene, however, began to intrude on our plans early last week as it initially took aim at Florida. My sister-in-law, who lives in Boca Raton, was considering staying home to weather the storm with her two children. As Irene turned north, it became ever more prominent in our minds. Nonetheless, we had bought our tickets, looked forward to seeing family and that was that.
We spent Thursday night and Friday morning settling in at my in-laws’ in New Jersey when it became apparent that the storm would strike Maryland and Delaware on Saturday, the day of the wedding. After agonizing over the decision and haggling with the reception center, the wedding was moved up to 11:30 a.m. That Friday night we found ourselves to be the only ones en route on 95 heading toward the storm. In fact, 40 percent of the wedding guests — including one of the groomsmen — canceled.
We woke on Saturday morning to find the sky overcast and the first drops of rain beginning to fall. The ceremony was held at Trinity United Methodist Church in Chesapeake City, an elegant venue built during the mid 19th century. It was a beautiful service and the determination of the guests who attended in the face of the oncoming storm made it feel all the more intimate. The reception followed at the Chesapeake Inn and Restaurant a few blocks around the corner on the C&D Canal (the manmade waterway that connects the Chesapeake and the Delaware River). It was pouring rain and I found myself ferrying people from cars to the entrance with a giant golf umbrella.
All throughout the reception we watched out the windows of the reception hall as the storm intensified. The trees wavered in the breeze and the wind blew white caps on the canal. Inside, we were warm and dry, enjoying music, dancing, family and crab cakes. We actually felt sorry for those who were not brave enough to attend. After the party, as a sober driver, I brought my wife’s grandparents back to their home in Newark, Del. Upon returning, the wedding party had adjourned to the Shipwatch Inn for an after party.
The wedding had booked the entire inn and we were able to get a room in place of someone who had canceled. The inn was a creaky, wooden affair that had a distinctly East Coast waterfront charm. The rooms overlooked the canal and the route 213 bridge. Unfortunately, since no one had been prepared for a morning wedding, we had no dinner plans. Using Google Places on my iPhone I called six pizza places to no avail and finally managed to find a Chinese restaurant that would deliver in the tropical storm conditions. We ordered over $100 of food and gratefully tipped the driver $25. Everyone formed a giant conga line in the kitchen for some BBQ spare ribs or pork lo mein.
As crazy as it sounds, our greatest thrill was hanging out in the hot tub with the rain pouring down on us. The canal was well-protected, though gusts of 50-60 miles per hour did lash the trees and we saw the lights go out across the water. We didn’t lose power in Chesapeake City until sometime very early in the morning. Driving back to Delaware after a cold breakfast of fruit salad, doughnuts and orange juice, we saw darkened traffic lights, roads closed due to flooding, broken branches and even a billboard that had been ripped clean of its advertisements. Needless to say our flight out of Newark for 6 p.m. Sunday has been canceled but now so has our rescheduled flight for Monday morning; it looks like we’re finally heading out of Newark on Wednesday.
Returning to New Jersey has been a sobering experience. The ride back was on highways that are heavily bypassed due to flooding and downed tree trunks. A litter of leaves, mud and sticks bears witness to where flash floods have passed. The problem is that the hurricane dumped 9-12 inches of water on a state where the ground is already saturated. The flood waters continued to rise throughout Sunday, trapping many, and trees are still falling in the soaked ground. According to the Newark Star Ledger, Rutgers University, where I went to college, has been heavily flooded by the Raritan River. It happened 10 years ago during Hurricane Floyd but now the waters have reached inland into the heart of the city. The towns of Bound Brook and Denville have also been inundated. A power substation in Morristown has been knocked out despite sandbagging efforts.
Sitting here, writing this article with power and Internet access, contemplating the devastation around me, I feel quite fortunate. Four New Jersysans have died. The number of people without power in New Jersey is currently at 775,000; nearly all NJ Transit Service is suspended.
The Weather Channel, www.weather.com
The Newark Star Ledger, August 29th, 2011