Unforgettable Birthday during superstorm Sandy
Posted on: 06 Nov 2012
Neeraja S Kumar
As a young girl, America was a distant dream while studying for my schooling in Indian High School, Abu Dhabi, UAE. Even during my Engineering days in India, America was confined to Hollywood and English music.
Little did I dream that one day I will land in this vast land of opportunities for my MS in Engineering. Even when most of my classmates opted for jobs in good companies, I decided to try my luck for higher studies in US. With some decent score in TOEFL and GRE to back up, I was fortunate enough to get admission for the spring session in New Jersey Institute of Technology, New Jersey.
I had acquainted through Internet, three students joining the same College, who had agreed to share the accommodation. Although one had backed out at the last minute, the second one had agreed to meet me at the Newark Liberty Airport after arranging to come from Arizona, where she was staying, almost at the same time. We were to meet the third student, who was already resident in US, at the house we had rented. This was the arrangement which reassured my parents to let their only child travel alone to US.
When the day 4th January 2012 finally arrived for flying to US, it was more of an excitement rather than worry or anxiety for me. The day started with a positive sign as my ticket in British Airways was upgraded to business status which meant that I will be eligible to use the business lounge in London and fly London to Newark in business class. After the tearful farewell at the Abu Dhabi Airport, the flight took off at the scheduled time. Meeting three other new students who were joining the same college at the London Airport had a reassuring effect on me.
The eight hour time gap at the London Airport for the next flight was utilized to refresh myself and talk to my anxious parents who were proudly shown the business class comfort I was enjoying, through my Laptop. The flight from London took off at the exact time and we landed at the Liberty Airport almost at the scheduled time.
Unfortunately for me, the flight from Arizona, bringing my only elixir of life in US, got delayed and I was left alone at the baggage hall of the large Airport. The other three students accompanying me from London had already left as they had made prior arrangement for their transportation. I could not make any phone call to my parents as the telecommunication system was jammed at the Airport for security reason. When a burly police woman approached me with a menacing dog and enquired in an unfriendly manner about the reason for sitting there alone, I almost came to tears not knowing what to do. Left alone in an almost empty baggage hall in a new Country at eight in the night without any communication with anyone was the worst three hours of my life. My expectation soared when a phone message came from my friend advising me to meet her in a particular spot. The unfamiliar face of this girl, whom I had met only through Internet, brought the greatest joy and relief for me.
After settling in a sleepy little Spanish town called Harrison in New Jersey, 20 minutes drive by metro from New York, the college life was a totally new experience for me as I was used to a more traditional style of education. The independence and the resulting responsibility and creativity brought out a different kind of excitement and new experience in learning which I thoroughly enjoyed and made me realize the limitation of the education I had till then.
I was curious to be alerted by news in the Internet on 25th November 2012, about a storm raging near the Caribbean island and made no more than a passing remark when my parents phoned me from Abu Dhabi. But next day it started making news in the media having left in its trail, death and destruction in Cuba and Bahamas. Even then, the fury with which it will strike was never anticipated.
But everything started happening at the intensity of the wind speed generated by the Super Storm Sandy. It was declared in the category of a Super Storm and alert warning was issued by the Central and State Governments. The Super Storm was expected to strike at Delaware near the East Coast of America. All Airports and Roadways were cut off and there was no way to escape the fury of the storm other than to wait with muted breath.
By some quirk of fate, the wind took a deviation and struck exactly in New Jersey. Three of us were huddled inside the 2 bedroom flat which was part of a three storied, old wooden house, rented to us by an old Spanish couple. The wind started picking up speed by 28th night and next day morning peaked around 54 kms/hr with gust speed of 85 kms/hr. It was a horrifying feeling and we were scared to death. Three of us cuddled together in the centre room which was not having any glassed window, to escape from the murderous fury of a broken window. Wind picked up speed and reached 85 kms/hr by 29th night with gust speed reaching a frightening 125 kms/hr.
The wind speed remained at this alarming speed all throughout the night and by 30th early morning all the communication failed and there was no power and gas. We had near death experience in pitch darkness with super sonic wind and rain persistently hammering and pounding the wooden walls of the house with deafening sound. The temperature had dropped suddenly to three degree C and without heater, electricity and no where to turn for help, we were scared to death and left wondering whether we will ever meet our parents again.
It was nothing but a miracle that all three of us could survive the whole day and night, without losing hope. During the day, the wind speed had dropped to 54 kms/hr and the rain also had stopped. Although Harrison town is flanked on either side by Hudson and Passaic rivers, being at a higher elevation prevented the area near our house from flooding. By 30th night, water had receded completely and the wind speed also came down considerably.
31st October brought relief in the form of wind speed losing its strength completely and was reduced to 25 kms/hr. On the same day around 12 midnight, we heard a knock at the door and was relieved to see the welcome face of the three boys studying in the same College, who were our neighbors. They invited us to come down stairs for a change as there was an emergency lamp lit in the streets nearby, for the repair works being carried out. This was the only light in the whole of the vicinity of Harrison town. To escape from the emptiness of our thoughts and the darkness of the situation, we immediately consented.
Three terrified girls along with the three chivalrous boys assembled around the emergency lamp on the street. The boys started taking out candles and lit it. They then placed two pieces of bread, liberally spread with jam, at the centre of the candles on an abandoned electric post.
The three girls were bewildered with the antics of the boys who then started clapping and singing happy birthday. Smilingly one boy extended me a small knife inviting me to cut the bread piece. Suddenly it came to my realization that 31st October was my 23rd birthday and tears of joy filled my eyes, drowning all the horrifying experience I had moments ago.
Seeing the clapping, singing and frolicking going around a half lit lamp, in the middle of a deserted, dark street and in the aftermath of one of the worst natural disaster to hit US, a team of curious Police officers who were passing by, came to enquire. On hearing the significance of the occasion, each of the Police officers came forward, congratulated me and wished me a happy birthday.
This was my most unforgettable birthday ever, teaching me in the process, ruthlessness of nature, never to lose hope at times of adversity, to stick together during crisis and above all what friendship is all about.