By Matthew Green Correspondent
Exactly three years after devastating Hurricane Sandy slammed the state of New Jersey, a crowd of students and faculty gathered for a roundtable discussion and question and answer session with several individuals who were directly affected by the crisis.
“I can’t think of a natural event that shaped New Jersey culture as much as Hurricane Sandy did,” said Matthew Bender, associate professor of history and director of the Hurricane Sandy Oral History Project.
The audience heard personal experiences and in-depth analyses from Diane Bates, professor of sociology; Michael Nordquist, interim executive director for the Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement; Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist-in-charge for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration; social worker Carolyn Olsen and Lieutenant John Barcus on Thursday, Oct. 29, in the Education Building at 7 p.m.
While reminiscing about the effects of Superstorm Sandy, the speakers also acknowledged the reaction of New Jersey residents in the aftermath. Many New Jersey residents were in shock at the severity of the storm and Szatkowski, who works at the National Weather Service, noted the 72 fatalities and $50 billion of U.S. property damage in his presentation.
As the officer in charge of the Mantoloking Borough during the hurricane, Barcus said, “It was the worst day of my life.”
For so many New Jersey residents, damage done to homes and to public places was extremely personal as some individuals lived their whole lives by the beach.
“I grew up with a very strong personal history with the shore,” Bates said.
Barcus recalled memories of the scenario in which he was one of eight officers in charge of the Mantoloking Borough, where all 512 houses were damaged or flooded and 15 residents failed to evacuate.
“We weren’t anticipating what we got,” Barcus said.
Nordquist shared Barcus’ sentiments.
“It was not just a natural disaster, but was a social disaster,” he said.
He said that the superstorm was a result of natural occurrences in the climate and the implications of those occurrences had major, everlasting societal impacts in social, political and economic areas.
According to Szatkowski, the problem is not so much living with natural disasters as it is getting people to understand the impacts of a weather forecast. The technology used to forecast these storms have improved over the years, and Hurricane Sandy’s predicted course was nearly perfect. If people trusted the technology more and heeded the warning far before Sandy made it up the Atlantic coast, perhaps property could have been preserved, or even lives saved.
Nevertheless, all the speakers maintained that some good did come out of this disaster, as communities throughout the state came together to support each other.
Olsen explained her experiences as a licensed social worker during the chaotic time.
“People came out in droves to help,” she said.
During Hurricane Sandy, the College was closed for five days, according to Nordquist. He explained that although Ewing was not damaged as severely as other sections of the state, the College responded to Sandy by establishing the TCNJ Here for Home Foundation and conducting 14-15,000 hours of volunteer service for other damaged communities.
“One of the comforting things about Hurricane Sandy is that virtually everybody in the state was affected by it,” Bates said. “Disasters almost invariably bring out the best in people.”
With everyone in the same boat, the heightened sense of unity still persists today, a full three years later, as people continue to proudly assert themselves as “Jersey Strong.”