I was really excited that this year’s Annual Meeting was being held in Pittsburgh. Having grown up in southwestern Pennsylvania and gone to school at Carnegie Mellon, I was eager to get back to my roots and share my hometown with my coworkers — the excitement of a home Steelers game, a ride up the incline to gaze down at the city from Mount Washington, and maybe a cruise on the three rivers on the Gateway Clipper. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy forced me to rethink some of my plans, especially those that involved being outdoors.
Although we were physically out of the storm’s direct path, we did feel some of its effects. (The nearly constant, cold, windy rain was hard to ignore.) Outwardly, we did what we normally do to orchestrate an annual meeting — which was a great success (pp. 54–55) in spite of the weather.
But behind those efficient exteriors and smiling faces, we worried about our families, friends, and coworkers who were in the path of the storm, and wondered how and when we would be able to get home to them. Flights were cancelled, stranding people in Pittsburgh. By Wednesday, some formed carpools and drove back in rented cars. Others waited it out and took flights later in the week, since it wasn’t clear how they would get home from the airport or whether their home would have power, heat, and water once they did get there.
I was extremely lucky. I was on one of the first Amtrak trains to go into New York City after the flooded tunnels had been cleared, inspected, repaired, and re-energized. Once I got home, I found that, unlike much of the surrounding community, our house did not lose power, and neither it nor our cars were damaged by any falling trees or flying debris.
Not all of us were so fortunate. A few of my coworkers had to evacuate their houses and apartments. One directed her teenage son’s evacuation from lower Manhattan by phone while she was in Pittsburgh, and three weeks later they are still staying with friends. Another returned to her sixth-floor apartment (in a building where the water reached the third floor) and found that the storm had broken her windows and sucked out her curtains. Many coworkers lost power and were without electricity for a week. Some waited more than two weeks to have power restored, during which time the temperature fell and a nor’easter dropped a half-foot of snow in some areas. Unfortunately, one employee’s family suffered the ultimate loss. A cousin evacuated his home last year before Hurricane Irene hit only to have it looted in the days following that storm; he decided to remain behind this time to safeguard his property, and he drowned in the floodwaters.
After more than two weeks, the transportation system went from total shutdown of trains, buses, tunnels, and bridges to nearly normal operation. The five- and six-hour lines at gas stations (some stations had gas but no power, others had power but no gas, and some had neither) brought back memories of the 1970s oil crises; now, with odd-even rationing, the panic has subsided.
New York City is great at responding to beyond-design-basis events like natural disasters and emergencies. As the Northeast rebuilds, it will be important to practice the principles of inherently safer design and operation, and reconsider what might have previously been thought of as not a credible scenario.
If you tried to contact us and received an “undeliverable” notice or “your call cannot be completed” recording, it was because our office was without power from Oct. 29 until Nov. 3. (If you haven’t received an expected response, please try again.) We reopened on Monday, Nov. 5, and we’re back — almost — to business as usual. The memories, though, will be with us for a long time.
Cindy Mascone is Editor-in-Chief of Chemical Engineering Progress, AIChE’s member magazine. She has more than 25 years of experience as a technical editor and writer, including four years as the head of her own freelance consulting business, Engineered Writing. Previously, she worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.
She holds a BS in chemical engineering and engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon Univ., and has been an active member of AIChE and Society of Women Engineers.Read more
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