Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

I Survived Irene and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

“I think I’ll have a T-shirt printed: “I survived Hurricane Irene and all I got was a lousy night’s sleep” - and enough food to power a small pacific nation for a couple of weeks.
Any port in a storm: I slept on my kitchen floor 

As some had been saying all along, Hurricane Irene proved not be the thunderous apocalypse some elements of the media, and the authorities, had billed her as.
But it could have been much worse, and having never lived through a hurricane before it is an experience I will never forget.

As a resident of New York for just short of a month, my timing was impeccable.

In fact, lately, I’ve been forced to consider my luck, and whether I am cursed or blessed when it comes to overseas travel.

Somehow, I seem always to find myself at the center of some International Emergency.

Just two days before Irene stole headlines, the city of New York was shaken by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that had its epicenter under the state of Virginia.

The circumstances were surreal.

My colleagues and I had been eating lunch a diner near our work when the quake struck, oblivious. Not a single plate of piece of cutlery moved.

We only learned about the event when we returned to work and colleagues asked “did you feel the building sway?” Um… pardon?

On July 7, 2005, I found myself in London, the day terrorists struck the public transport system, killing 48 innocents.

Just a few kilometers down the road, I was comfortably on the couch in a friend’s flat in South London watching Pimp My Ride on MTV.

Life’s funny like that.

That’s how I found myself in a strange flat in a new city, battening down the hatches for a hurricane as wide as Texas.

New Yorkers began taking the threat of Irene seriously on Thursday afternoon.

There were scenes of ordered chaos in the supermarkets, which continued until Saturday afternoon when the shelves had been virtually stripped bare.

On Friday night I took photos of near empty shelves, which two days ago were abundant with bread, meat, beans, water and fruit.

Shops reported a run on items like batteries and torches after the city urged New Yorkers to prepare a “Go Bag” with emergency supplies.

On Saturday the streets were calm and quieter than usual, the weather fine, giving few clues as to the threat to come.

I ventured out a couple of times for a few last minute supplies but spent much of the day in a nervous holding pattern, anticipating Irene’s arrival.

I monitored the TV news closely, watching every new briefing by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and noting the address of the nearest evacuation center in case I was forced to flee.

Safely on the 8th floor, there was no risk of flooding – my biggest fear was the windows.
Would they shatter? Be smashed by flying debris? I had no clue, so I prepared as best I could.

I dragged the bed away from the windows, as close to the front door as possible.

“Probably over-reacting,” I thought, so I put the bed back.

Later I’d drag it back again. Those nerves!

I stayed up as late as exhaustion would allow and eventually spent the night on some cushions on the kitchen floor.

An alcove, well away from windows, the kitchen offered the best protection. It was better to be safe than sorry.

I woke around 5am on Sunday and counted my limbs; still intact.

It soon became clear – Irene had largely spared New York her fury, although places like
New Jersey and Philadelphia weren’t so lucky and were badly flooded.

Around 1pm, Mayor Bloomberg addressed the press with the latest on Irene, now longer a hurricane, downgraded to a tropical storm.

For the first time in four days, he cracked a wry smile and I knew the worst was over.

Now, about that T- Shirt.