On the Tuesday as Hurricane Sandy was sweeping inland far south in New Jersey, I spent an emotional day connecting with coastal communities in Connecticut where storm-whipped waves surged ashore past beachfront homes, over roads, beaches, and wetlands that had just recovered from Tropical Storm Irene.
During the weeks since Hurricane Sandy reawakened the conversation about smarter ways to manage our coastlines and climate change in the U.S., these images from that day have stayed with me.
I witnessed a mother and daughter returning to their home for the first time after Hurricane Sandy and picking through the rubble to retrieve a few remaining family photos.
I watched all four generations of a Hispanic family dig out sediment from their home with the National Guard to recover their American dream.
I met a restaurant owner who had just finally reopened this past summer, with the help of countless community fund raisers, after Tropical Storm Irene damaged his property a year ago, only to be back to square-one with nine months of repairs ahead.
l stood with a family whose home was swept off its foundations and carried 20 feet away, knocking over two telephone poles in the process. I stood with that same family as the fire chief drew a large circle with an “X” in orange spray paint on their front door – “condemned.”
I was there as the Connecticut Science Director of The Nature Conservancy, which has been working with state and local officials and citizens on natural and climate-related hazard planning along the shores of Long Island Sound. But by the end of the day, my role as a community advisor on coastal risk reduction and adaptation solutions seemed rather small and abstract. Seeing the tears and exhaustion in these people’s faces drove home for me the human toll of disaster.
Image credit: Adam Whelchel/TNC (Sandy batters Connecticut’s shore).