Actually, I still almost missed the earthquake. "No earthquake shook the town," Louisa May Alcott said in a different context. I didn't notice anything. Evidently, I was wrong. I joked that it was because I had been taking part in a discussion of books and our minds were therefore not on earthly things. In point of fact, though, when I went back over the chronology, I realized that I was probably in my car, driving from Amherst to Hadley. I had heard a CNN news anchor on satellite radio announce that they were cutting to a picture of the Capitol because a magnitude 5.8 earthquake had recently been registered in the DC area. I could of course joke that I didn’t notice the quake because I just thought it was our lousy Amherst roads that were causing my car to shake, rattle, and roll, but (a) I was on a newly paved stretch, and (b) besides, that might irritate Town Manager John Musante and Director of Public Works Guilford Mooring, who are very proud (as am I) of the new Street Improvement Plan that is finally addressing the deferred maintenance on our roadways. I’ll instead attribute my lack of awareness to driving a heavy wagon with a smooth ride and fine handling.
Although science websites published serious information about this event and earthquakes in general (1, 2, 3, 4), some other learned authorities loosened up a bit. Even the Library of Congress got into the game, devoting its Sheet Music of the Week feature to an “All Shook UpEdition,” displaying items from popular dance tunes to liturgical music.
The Jewish Daily Forward reported that a lunch for seniors in a Washington synagogue had to be interrupted when the building was evacuated. More serious, perhaps:
No one had yet arrived for a bris scheduled for later in the afternoon. “Fortunately, the bris hadn’t started yet,” said Easton. “That would not have been a good combination. We hope there aren’t any aftershocks,” he added.That reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live spoof of the Lincoln automobile commercial (and conveniently allows me to complete the circle of reference to my having been in a well-engineered car at the time of the seismic event; see how that works?).
As in the case of other breaking news stories, however, Twitter became the prime forum for discussion. Tweeps competed to see who could come up with the best photographs of the devastation, such as here, in Philadelphia and DC. And of course, there were plenty of verbal jokes: about earthquakes in general or about comparative toughness in coping with them. Buzzfeed ran a feature on "The Best Twitter Responses to the Earthquake" (sample: "I felt that earthquake last week" - Brooklyn hipster). Here, in no particular order, some favorites from the general Twitter stream:
(1) "East Coast shaken, not stirred. #whyisaneastcoastearthquakelikeajamesbondmartini "
(2) "Glass of champagne tipped over in Martha's Vineyard. Obama not harmed."
(3) "Guess we should have been more specific about wanting a government shake up"
(4) "There was 5.8 earthquake in Washington. Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 5.8, so he compromised."
(5) "Massive post-quake looting underway in Manhattan! (Wall St traders allowed back into their offices)"
(6) "East coast: 'Holy crap.' West Coast: 'Amateurs.' Midwest: 'You still can't drive in the snow.'"
(7) "Earthquake damage here limited to my TV, which has been taken over [by] reporters babbling endlessly about nothing."As Patrick Johnson of the Springfield Republican quipped, "This is shaping up to be one of the funniest earthquakes ever. Keep those one liners coming, everyone." And they did.
It seemed, though, that the hurricane would be the real thing.
Still, it did have its humorous aspects, as well. For a start, there were all the jokes about how to prepare for the disaster (the usual: what to stock up on, how to spend your last hours on earth, etc.). In addition, though, there was something new. I had been amused watching New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempt to make his periodic announcements in Spanish as well as English. One could truthfully say that he spoke Spanish without an accent: because he pronounced it just like English. Evidently, I was not the only one who found the effort on his part at least as amusing as it was sincere. A character named ElBloombito soon appeared on Twitter, pretending to be the Mayor and issuing encouraging announcements in Spanglish.
• Lo siento el briefing is el late. No subwayo y yo have to walko.The hurricane itself proved to be no laughing matter.
• No elevatorador serviso en el high rises por que no electrico para movo y no rescue. el sucko para you.
• Ay Ay Ay! Yo forgoto evacuato el isla de Rikers! My bado.
• Nueva Yorko will get through el hurricano por que nosotros el besto personas de la earthador.
• Muchos trees esta falling downo. No stando under los trees. Que splat!
• El hurricano is Categoryo 1 y still vamosing towards Nuevo Yorko. Cuidado!
• Los cans del trasho por favor to turn them back overo. Gracias.
• No criminales comito el mucho crimes last noche. Poco few arrestados compardo to el average. Felicidades!
• Yo soy muy proud of los effortos del el departementes de policitas y el flamo. Tu es el pride of Nuevo Yorko.
|shoppers buying up bottled water at Stop & Shop in Hadley Friday afternoon|
|shelves of bottled water emptied fast|
|Trader Joe's had to restock shelves of bottled water; here, bread shelves empty out, as well, on Saturday evening|
Some of our neighbors suffered as much or worse. Compare our paltry 127 darkened homes with the total of 319,631 Massachusetts electric customers who were without power, and the 4 million along the east coast as a whole. Our flooding, too, was minimal. Rising river waters forced evacuations in Huntington and Chester, to the south. Closer to home, I-91 between Deerfield andGreenfield was closed, and in Shelburne Falls, the Deerfield River rose so high that the waters swamped the famous Bridge of Flowers. Late this evening, the Connecticut River was threatening Northampton. And that's not all. The ten inches of rain flowed into the rivers, which aren't expected to crest until Tuesday. Meanwhile, the eastern half of Connecticut was still reported to be without power at midnight tonight. The situation is even worse in Vermont. I am told that CNN was the only network still covering the hurricane live by 11:30 p.m.—which means Vermont. (Maybe it is trying to make up for its slowness in covering the fall of Tripoli.)
Update Monday afternoon:
And again, it is not over: Shelburne Falls (see above) was hardest hit, and Deerfield and Greenfield are still suffering from flooding. In the latter, for example, a golf course is awash in toxic sewage: what officials describe as "poison water" moving at a speed of 4-6 knots.
Last night, Town Manager John Musante reported to the Select Board on the Town's response to the hurricane. We "came through," he said, "in very, very good shape. "We're very fortunate, very lucky," certainly more so than out neighbors to the north and west. There were no reported injuries, and only 6 or 7 temporary street closings due to flooding or fallen branches. The roughly 125 residences that lost power had it restored by the next day. Town buildings were not damaged.
Mr. Musante stated that he was "very, very pleased at how prepared we were for the storm," and he thanked citizens for heeding Town advice and staying off the roads so as to reduce danger to themselves and facilitate the work of emergency responders. He had the highest praise for Amherst's emergency team, led by Fire Chief Tim Nelson, which ensured "tremendous cooperation" among between public safety teams, the Health Department (which worked with the Red Cross), Public Works (DPW), and others. Every branch of Town government did its job: IT ensured continuous communication, the Animal Welfare Officer assisted farmers with livestock problems. The University of Massachusetts was part of the picture, ready to put its facilities at our disposal if things had worsened.
Going forward, he explained, DPW would be continuing street clean-up and dealing with some 20 downed town trees. The continuing concern, however, was water in the wake of the heavy rains. That water drains into rivers and streams, which are not expected to crest for another day or so and pose an often unappreciated danger. "Be smart in the days ahead," he advised residents, advising them to "stay safe and stay away from the high water."
Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe reported being deeply impressed with what she saw when she attended one of the emergency response meetings on Saturday: "ever base was covered.," "The Town was really just on top of all these things, and I want to compliment and thank you very much." It was "an excellent exercise in preparedness and readiness."
Further selected coverage:
As of today, some 4,000 western Massachusetts residents were still without electrical power. Threats arising from the rains—first, flooding and, particularly in our immediate area, health hazards through contamination—remained the most pressing concern.
Springfield Republican, 30 August:
• AP: "Helicopters rush food, water to Vermont towns"
• S. P. Sullivan, "Sen. Ben Downing: Flooding of roads, bridges and culverts remains a concern in the Berkshires after Irene"
• John Appleton, "Hurricane Irene flooding devastates several Western Massachusetts farm crops"
• Patrick Johnson, "Irene has gone but problems remain; Western Massachusetts towns waiting to get full measure of damage"
• "Editorial: Calm after the storm - Lessons from Irene"
Daily Hampshire Gazette, 30 August
• AP: "Irene brings worst flooding in century to Vermont"
Daily Hampshire Gazette, 31 August
• Chad Cain, "Threat of more flooding subsides, most roads re-opened"
• Chad Cain, "Area residents warned about contamination of rivers after Irene"
• "Slideshow: Local scenes from Tropical Storm Irene"