In downtown Wilmington on a sunny Sunday morning, lawn mowers and leaf blowers were cranking up. Irene is but an ugly memory, and an indelible one -- the calm after the storm.
But as I flipped on the news channels this morning I was embarrassed and ashamed to realize that I was thinking, "This is going to be one helluva spectacle!"
Right away I asked God to forgive me. Had I forgotten the actual fear I felt as Irene bore down on the Cape Fear seacoast, snapping the end off of a fishing pier, carving up the shore, battering seaside communities and economies, causing mandatory evacuations, and claiming several lives?
But now our brothers and sisters to the north were under the gun. I shifted my prayers to them.
It was bad enough. But it could have been worse.
As I joined the networks at mid-morning, I saw a scene I hadn’t expected. The storm observers on The Weather Channel anchor desk seemed deflated, sloppy, even bored.
Jim Cantore looked forlorn as he stood on a mostly deserted street in New York's Battery Park. An occasional pedestrian ambled by. He noticed that a man’s hat had blown off. “I can’t chase that hat for you right now,” he said apologetically.
Cantore, champion storm chaser, seemed almost at a loss for words. Adrenalin-infused descriptions like “fierce”, “awesome”, “unprecedented”, and “catastrophic” suddenly didn’t apply anymore.
Ever the showman, Cantore made the best of the situation, pointing out, “You can see the camera on our van shaking a little from the wind.” He hopefully turned to the scene behind him. “Those trees over there look okay, and you can see the limbs and leaves moving some.”
For him, standing forlorn before a breathless national audience, there were suddenly no more dire emergencies to describe, no more worlds to conquer, no more clenched teeth and taught muscles as he bravely braced himself against nature’s fury.
In a New Bedford harbor, a CNN reporter, given a fifteen-minute live window, directed the camera to a 30-foot sailboat that had broken loose from its moorings, and now bobbed up and down as it banged against the wooden dock.
“Looks like the deck railing is taking some punishment,” the reporter intoned. He had drawn a “crowd” of three or four boat captains who kept blocking his videographer’s shot of the damaged sailboat. Our reporter shooed them aside. We got a good close-up look at the bent railing.
On Long Island Beach, a woman field reporter threw back the hood of her rain slicker and complained to the live camera, “Look at this. It will take me a week to get my hair untangled again.” A jogger in shorts trotted by behind her. Several gawkers leaned again the boardwalk railing.
Close by, though, flooded Long Island streets were revealed. The Red Cross reported that 4,000 were in shelters. It looked pretty bleak there. A car in water up to the chassis was being pushed by several men. I think it was their car. The clean-up would be a monumental task.
Believe me, folks, it was getting to be lean pickin’s for the weary news crews, who are to be commended for risking life and limb to cover the story. But the biggest emergency now for these television news teams was that there were no immediate emergencies to report.
The storm radar on the television screens now began to lose the splattered red, orange and yellow colors that somehow made your pulse quicken. Now there were mostly bright green swirls cast by remaining rain bands and squalls.
As Irene exited northern cities, storm chasers followed in a state of panic, clutching at the dregs of drama that remained.
Now flooding and power outages took center stage. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went on live television, reporting that 650,000 in the state were without power, and “hundreds” of road were still shut down. He said damages there would run into the “billions”.
A two-mile boardwalk in one Jersey community was completely destroyed. But on the “positive” side, tolls would be exacted again by Monday on major highways, casinos would reopen in Atlantic City, a nuclear plant would power up again, people who weathered the storm in shelters would soon be moved out, and a big post-storm surf competition was being planned.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (who is a man I greatly admire) came on live television to caution that it wasn’t all over by a long shot. “Just because the rain and winds have cleared out, flooding is a major concern. We have a lot to do yet.”
As the day wore on, in Massachusetts, Irene left some keen parting shots in the late rounds, lashing coastal waterways with bursts of storm winds.
Here in North Carolina, meanwhile, NC Emergency Management reported an estimated $400 million in storm damages, and five fatalities were confirmed. On the Outer Banks, 76 emergency rescues had been logged. In Wilmington, the upscale enclave named “Landfall” basked in some fleeting national publicity.
By any measure, this event was historic. What else could have caused a virtual total evacuation of America’s largest city? What else could have caused Saturday soap opera staples to be bumped?
So, as Irene, now the dethroned Queen of Storms, huffed her last few puffs and high-tailed her way toward the Canadian border, U.S. East Coasters from Maine to Florida licked our wounds and counted our blessings.
I recently read the Psalms of King David, who unashamedly sought God’s help in times of trouble, and thanked Him for blessings undeserved.
I do the same on this Sunday, August 28, 2011. Praise the Lord. Amen.