Aftermath – Coping with the impact of Hurricane Sandy

By Chelsie Gastright, Organizations Editor

December 5, 2012

Twenty-four hours. That was all it took for the lives of millions to change.

On Oct. 29, Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast, slamming the coast with category one-force winds and devastating flooding that, by sunrise the next morning, left cities completely unrecognizable.

One month later, the Northeast is still assessing the damage to begin the rebuilding process, with some families just receiving power back a week ago. With this kind of destruction, more than a home was lost for these families. They lost a lifetime of memories.

“It was a whole big mess. It was so messed up and every body was like, ‘oh it would never happen here,’ but it did,” said Bonnie Vallee, a junior at High Point University from New Jersey. “I mean there are not even words, really.”

When Vallee went to sleep on Oct. 29, the storm had just rolled onto the coast, but when she awoke the next morning, the severity of the situation set in through the terrifying photographs.

Her town flooded, with debris floating in the murky water outside her New Jersey home. Bridges that once spanned the bays now lead directly to the ocean, and their beloved boardwalk has become only driftwood. After the waters receded, the inside of her home was completely gone; an empty shell of what once was. There are no walls or floors; only the beams and interior paneling remained.

However, the hardest part for Vallee was not the photographs on the news, but knowing that she had not been able to convince her parents to leave New Jersey.

“I knew it was going to be bad. My family, as it got closer, they didn’t want to evacuate. And I was telling them to leave but they didn’t want to,” explained Vallee. “They had already lost power before the storm hit. Even before it got bad a tree had fallen on my home.”

Vallee’s mother works as a nurse at a local New Jersey hospital, and throughout the duration of the storm, her mother stayed in the hospital to assist those who needed it. Her stepdad, however, opted to stay home to ride out the storm, and that concerned Vallee immensely.

“I was calling my house, but of course the house phone wasn’t working,” Vallee said, her voice wavering. “I tried their cell phones but they were dead too. I knew how bad it was, so that’s why not being able to contact anyone was really scary.”

Thankfully, her family stayed safe, and they are finally trying to bring their lives back to normal. Both Vallee’s mom and stepdad are back at work, and they are spending countless hours at their home trying to start the rebuilding process.

The road to recovery does not just include restoring the city, but also restoring yourself emotionally. This process will not be easy; especially with many of the places Vallee fondly remembers during her summer months being almost completely destroyed.

“Over the summer I worked at the Shore Store, the same place the cast of Jersey Shore got their summer jobs during filming,” said Vallee. “I got to be on television for about seven seconds, but it was really eerie seeing myself there, then the next morning to look online and see it all destroyed.”

Even with the rebuilding process beginning, Vallee still could not go home for Thanksgiving. As much as she wanted to go and see her family, her mother insisted she stay in High Point.

“My mom told me not to come because there was really no where to stay. My house isn’t really there. It’s still standing but there are no floors and no walls,” said Vallee.

Throughout this past month, though, the nation has rallied to help raise the needed funds to get the storm-battered Northeast back on their feet. With many of HPU’s current students from the Northeast impacted the most, it only made sense that the student body would come together to help raise the needed funds for their friends and loved ones back home.

So, in early November, HPU began the “HPU Cares” fundraiser. It consisted of several events including Pie the One Who Cares, a blood drive and a dodge ball tournament.

At each event, all proceeds went directly to the American Red Cross to help aid the rebuilding process, and with a promise that HPU would match all that was raised, the student body came together to raise $8,348. The school then matched the amount raised, and overall HPU has donated a total of $16,696.

“It definitely means a lot,” said Vallee, smiling. “The school is always really good about caring for their students.”

To Vallee, New Jersey is more than just home, it was the place she grew up and made many memories throughout countless summers and holidays. Vallee is going to be returning home for the first time since the storm over Christmas break, and while her nerves have her anticipating the worst, she cannot wait to be reunited with her family for the holidays.

For more information on how to donate to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, visit the American Red Cross website at: http://www.redcross.org. To donate to the HPU Cares fund, contact Gail Tuttle, vice president for student life, at gtuttle@highpoint.edu.