By Christine Bellini
For those of us who have lived on The East End for the better part of our lives, we consider ourselves well initiated to the hurly-burly wrath of hurricane, nor’easter and rouge storm. Yet, before I draw comparisons that only the comfort of electricity, heat, a roof over my head and a full belly — not to mention restored cable and Internet — allow, the heartbreaking destruction that is now named Breezy Point, Far Rockaway and The Jersey Shore has changed all that for generations to come.
Our every deference to the immeasurable losses suffered in the wake of this ruthless Sandy, as she thrashed Long Island’s South Shore in her biblical reach from South Carolina to Massachusetts, taking with her home and limb, private treasure and historic keepsake. Casting millions into the raw, drenched darkness, in just 36 hours she brought the most audacious on the East Coast to their bended knee.
In a place and time where Twitter and Facebook are often reduced to the most common of banalities, they have emerged as the new frontier of citizen journalism and grassroots disaster relief. In the wake of Katrina, Haiti’s earthquake and more recently Irene, we saw the glimmerings of their unprecedented potential to bring desperate populations together for a common cause. With Sandy we have witnessed first-hand their coming of age in a media-jaded era as reliable real-time S.O.S. beacons signaling help is on the way.
From the President and top FEMA officials, Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, Mayors Bloomberg and Booker, on down to first responders, volunteers, local reporters, neighbors and relatives afar, Twitter and Facebook transformed into a lifeline of survival assistance and good will, affording the socially inclined to reach out and broadcast the arrival of the National Guard, firefighters, emergency crews and, as the days passed, fuel deliveries to communities literally running on fumes. Remarkably the digital phenomenon of texting has elevated cell phones to life-saving heights.
According to Rachael Horwitz, a spokeswoman for Twitter, in a report relayed in The New York Times on Nov. 2, more than 20 million tweets were sent about the storm between Saturday and Thursday.
“And that is probably a conservative estimate, “she noted, because it reflects only those Twitter posts that included the terms “sandy,” “hurricane,” “#sandy” and “#hurricane.”
Locally The East Hampton Star, The Southampton Press, The Express and local Patch affiliates peppered the Twitter-sphere with real-time updates for residents in search of warm showers, FEMA assistance, power outage assistance and gas station deliveries.
Remarkably the local weeklies were printed and distributed on schedule; no small feat when you consider their reporters had to scurry around looking for Internet service to file their stories to editors in offices that were rendered inoperable while they themselves were stranded without power.
Which brings me to yet another observation — for those of us lucky enough to have been merely inconvenienced by Sandy’s disruption to our daily routines, it has become convincingly evident that we are a media-addicted, wireless-junkie bunch. I say this unabashedly as I include myself in the fold, descending on Bridgehampton’s Starbucks to find a signal and log on at the communal table, elbow to elbow with other Internet seekers in need of a fix. Fleeting as it was, I could feel the pitch of my wireless anxiety lessen ever so slightly as the front page of The New York Times website came into view. It was true, the tunnels were still closed and the mayor was restricting passenger vehicles over the bridges. What is that compunction that we have to read for ourselves critical news to believe it?
As a former weekly editor I assuaged my news hound nerves by venturing out and documenting Sandy’s arrival, posting video and photographs on Facebook right up to the moment the Internet feed failed me. After that I relied on my cell phones’ reach to relay the scuttlebutt I heard to whomever would listen or text. As millions resorted to the same – let it be said we would have as willingly held up two cans with a string to relay our messages.
And now, as the floodwaters have receded from breaching our village streets, there is still an unsettling edge in the air as a new nor’easter approaches. The brilliance of Mother Nature is her undisputable ability to remind us of how truly human we are.
A former news editor, essay writer Christine Bellini is an editorial consultant who spends a good deal of her time pondering the cultural curiosities of The Hamptons from her Sag Harbor tree house.