How my friend Kelly got through Hurricane Sandy

Sandy was a hurricane of historic proportions. As the 18th named storm and 10th hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded (measured by diameter). Winds spanned 1,100 miles and caused damages in the United States estimated at $20 billion ($50 billion if you include business interruptions). There have been over 110 reported fatalities in the US alone.

Hurricane Sandy blasted Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico before heading to the United States where it affected at least 24 states, from Florida to Maine, and as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin. Particularly hard-hit were New York and New Jersey. Sandy flooded streets, subways, and tunnels and left millions without electricity or phone service.

Words cannot describe the terror and devastation Sandy caused.

Hospitals had generator malfunctions and sewer system pumps broke, sending raw sewage spewing everywhere. Live power wires were seen dangling on the ground, showering sparks on everything nearby and were instant death to anything unfortunate enough to be too close.

In some places, flood waters were moving at a swift six mph. While it doesn't sound like much, that force is equal to winds moving at 160 mph because water is so much heavier than air. The rushing water eroded home foundations and destroyed them from the ground up.

Flood waters literally swept some houses hundreds of feet down the street like Monopoly game pieces. Cars were piled up like Matchbox toys in a messy boy's room, and entire walls were blown off buildings, exposing their interiors like some giant dollhouse.

The storm hits

I had a chance to catch up with blogger, advocate and activist Kelly Kunik on Friday. She has lived with type 1 diabetes for over 35 years, and she needed all of that experience and wisdom to help her plan for the worst.

Kelly lives on the coast of New Jersey, on an island with the Atlantic Ocean on the right and bays on the left.

"The bay and the ocean met on the street in front of my house," she said. "It's not good when the bay and the ocean meet."

During the middle of last week, she spent her evenings after work shopping for items she thought she might need. She made sure to get a lot of water and non-perishable foods, as well as batteries and gas for her car.

As Sandy got closer, she started prepping her house as best she could.

"I just moved into this place and didn't know how it would hold up during a storm," reflected Kelly. "I didn't know where to put stuff, where to expect water, either from flooding or leaks, and was just generally worried about everything. I made sure all of the storm windows were down and went around the house unplugging everything I could."

She put together a diabetes supplies bag and put that into a waterproof protective sack. She said she had to make a lot of compromises with her diabetes when it came to finding non-perishable food items (lots of water, soups, boxes of pasta, granola bars, juice boxes (for lows), applesauce, instant oatmeal, tuna, beans, breads), but that in situations like this it's tough to not compromise. She had to hunker down for survival and worry about bare necessities.

Kelly was fortunate enough to be invited to stay with a friend and her family who live on the highest part of the island. As Sandy came through, she could hear the ocean churning only blocks away.

"It sounded like a big scary machine," she said, "and I could hear my pill bottles rattling at night as the howling winds rocked the house."

Her friends had a fireplace and dry wood, so they huddled around the fireplace and listened to the transistor radio, playing games with the kids to pass time. With no landline phones working, and no electricity, it was hard to stay informed on what was happening.

"We didn't know everything you guys knew. I couldn't stay connected on my iPad and had to conserve battery," said Kelly.

Hurricane Sandy and diabetes means doing the best you can

For those using insulin, there is a concern about keeping it climate controlled. While the bottle you are actually using can stay at room temperature for about 30 days, any supply you have needs to be kept cool. With no power to run refrigerators, and ice and cooling packs lasting only so long, keeping that supply cool is a big concern for many.

I asked Kelly about the decision to stay rather than evacuate the area, and she talked about people losing many things because they haven't been allowed back to their homes. The family they stayed with was constantly patching leaks, at one point by stapling a plastic table covering around the seams of a leaking window. Had they left, their place would have taken a lot of damage.

When I asked about her diabetes management, and if the stress and anxiety of both the storm and aftermath had made things harder for her, she nodded.

"Yes, definitely. I tested a lot, and made as many adjustments as I could. It was all about testing, testing, testing, and just doing the best I could."

Many people in the region relied on their friends and family to help keep their insulin cool, bumming some storage space in a fridge powered by a generator or in an area that still had power. This time of year the temperatures outside are relatively cool as well, so this wasn't as big of a concern as it would have been during a hotter season.

As of Friday, there were many parts of Kelly's area that were still closed off and without working heat. The ramifications of Sandy have been long-lasting and there are much more yet to come. It could take a long time to get everything back to being safe and habitable, and there are many areas that may never be the same.

"Please donate to the Red Cross," Kelly pleaded. "There are so many people that need help, and the Red Cross is going to run out of money. They need all the help they can get."

Above and beyond basic human survival, people with diabetes have an extra layer or two of worry, planning, preparation, and anxiety to deal with. I'm very glad that Kelly made it through in relatively good shape and my thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by Sandy.

*If you'd like to make a donation to Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, you can do so via the American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy donation page.

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StephenS says:

20 November 2012 at 11:32 am

Scott, thanks for the update. We went through power outages during both the hot weather (after the Derecho storm at the end of June) and the cold weather (after Sandy). Everything you mentioned here is spot on. Thanks

Mike Hoskins says:

7 November 2012 at 6:40 pm

Great reporting, Scott. Thanks for doing this and sharing Kelly's story here.

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