Hurricane Sandy: iPad survivor's guilt

On a day in which many technophiles gleefully await the latest Apple tablet computer to be delivered, millions of Americans are still without power, heating and running water.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

The last week or so has been a surreal one for me.

Early last week, during my lunch break, I was sitting at my desk at my client's offices in downtown Brooklyn's Metrotech Center, taking a look at the weather forecast for the weekend in South Florida.

Since moving from New Jersey to the Sunshine State this summer, I've become something of a meteorology junkie, simply because when you live someplace that is prone to being affected by tropical systems a good part of the year, you want to be prepared. 

There's a lot of good technology and information out now that can help you better understand potential storm situations. I've even compiled a list of great apps and websites and even a great interactive e-book for iPad written by a professional storm videographer that are not only very interesting and educational, but could help save your life.

What I saw on the NOAA website disturbed me greatly. A hurricane was barrelling its way north from the Caribbean, heading not towards Florida, but the Northeastern US.

The National Hurricane Center "spaghetti models" showed a very high likelihood that the greater New York City metro area was going to be affected, even if it wasn't hit dead on. The sheer size of the system was going to be massive.

I didn't want to get too alarmist, but I checked up on the progress of this storm every day. By the end of the week, forecasters were talking about the possibility of Sandy becoming a "Frankenstorm", some weird extra/post-tropical convergence with a cold weather system coming in from the Central United States.

It was on Thursday, which is travel day for us out of state IT consultants, when I brought up the fact that I might not make it in the following week with my project manager and my co-workers, all of them locals. I told them a hurricane was coming, and it might cause flight cancellations.

"A hurricane in Florida? Dude, I hope you'll be OK," one of my co-workers said.

"No, I mean a hurricane is going to hit the East Coast. She's coming here."

"What? No way! Are you nuts?"

"Dude, look at the NHC website, I'm not joking. Her name is Sandy. They're calling it the Frankenstorm, because it's coming on Halloween."

"Yeah, right."

Conversation quickly turned to more pressing matters, like the latest iPads that were just announced, and whether or not to buy one. I told a few of my co-workers I was planning on buying the iPad 4, because I was able to trade in my old one, and I was looking forward to waking up at 3am and ordering it as soon as it became avaliable on Friday morning.

It is strange how skewed one's priorities in life can be, particularly in hindsight.

I left Brooklyn and flew out of LaGuardia on Thursday night. It was an uncomfortable and very bumpy three hour ride down, which at times felt like a roller coaster due to the crazy turbulence and head winds.

As we passed through coastal parts of South Carolina, Georgia and the northeastern tip of Florida, the MD-88 jet flew through one of the extreme outer bands of the storm, and they had to totally cancel the beverage service because it was unsafe for the attendants to walk down the aisles.

People who had gotten up to go to the lavatories or to stretch their legs were getting knocked around pretty bad and had to race back to their seats.

The final approach and landing itself was pretty harrowing as well, bumping up and down and yawing left and right all the way in during heavy rain. The pilot came in fast and we hit the ground hard.

It was at that point that I had that terrible, ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach. This was not even the worst of what a storm like this could do, and it was going to get stronger before it climbed its way up the coast before hitting the mid-Atlantic states, my former home.

It was going to hit New York and New Jersey, where I had spent the greater part of the last 43 years of my life. Where many of my family and friends still live.

Over the last several days, as the storm made landfall and passed through the Tri-State area, I've had that same nauseating feeling, as I watched from afar (and the ironic safety of all places, Florida) the never-ending media coverage of familiar towns, landmarks and haunts that were utterly devastated by this uncontrollable force of nature.

A lot of this hit home recently when NBC News contacted me by email this week and asked if they could use some photos I took (for my food blog) of some popular locations of the Jersey Shore for a segment on their late evening news broadcast with Brian Williams.

Why? Because now many of them will only remain as memories.

Much like I had this feeling of depression and gloom which went on for many weeks after the events that transpired in September of 2001, I'm feeling very much the same way when I hear about my friends and family without power, clean running water, heating and the ability to get such simple things as food and fuel for their cars.

And of course, to constantly have all of this reinforced by a real-time torrent of images and stories pasted on Facebook, Twitter and all over the gamut of old and new media sites about the loss and destruction.  

I don't want to downplay the significance of other disastrous events such as Katrina, the Southeast Asian tsunami and the most recent earthquake and nuclear catastrophe which affected much of Japan in 2011. But when a disaster on this scale hits such familiar surroundings, it is very different.

When you are a victim of an actual disaster your mind is immediately focused on self-preservation, and the shock and realization of the full extent of the loss comes much later.

Those of us who survive or completely escape such events are saddled with a guilt and a remorse that is very difficult to describe.

My friends and family, fortunately, have not been hurt. Nobody, thank God, had any major damage to their homes, but a lot of them are still without power and waiting for other utilities to be turned back on.

My co-workers who I directly work with have all reported in, and I know I'll probably hear some very interesting stories when I get back to New York after election week is over.

I thank my lucky stars I moved out of the New York Area and that I can write this article from a dry home with plenty of electricity and clean water, and that I can sit down to write about technology-oriented topics, let alone how I'm going to use this brand-new iPad that arrived today.

An event like this will certainly put your priorities back into perspective.

If you have the financial means, I ask that you contribute donations to the American Red Cross or one of the many Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) charities listed on the FEMA web site.

Thank you.

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