There were two moments during my coverage of Hurricane Sandy last year I remember most.
The first came the morning of the storm as I left Mamaroneck’s Harbor Island Park. I’d just had a conversation with Mayor Norman Rosenblum, who was in the park in his rain slicker trying to shoo onlookers from the area. They’d come because Sandy’s effects were already being seen and felt. The wind and rain were already strong and the harbor was threatening to overtake the seawall.
As I left the park and headed back to my car, I remember thinking, “I hope these guys are alright. These are my people here.”
My people. I’d been on the beat in Mamaroneck for less than three months.
And yet, that’s how I thought of them. Although I was the new reporter for Sound and Town, as it was known then, I felt a connection to the Village of Mamaroneck and the people there that, I have to say, took me by surprise.
Looking back, I realize, by that time, I’d reported on conflicts over what the village had done, and could do, to combat the effects of flooding, which had last devastated the area in 2007, and hit it again in 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene.
But that was then.
Sandy was on her way in October of last year and I knew, given the village’s history, she could be catastrophic. The village no longer had Sound & Town veteran Paige Rentz to rely on; so, it was going to be up to me, with about two months on the beat, to provide Mamaroneck with as much news, images and, hopefully, human connection as I could during a storm that, according to everyone, was going to be huge.
That brings me to the second memory that stands out.
It was the next day. The storm had moved on, but there was damage everywhere, especially in Harbor Island Park. I walked the entire park, taking pictures and tweeting them out.
On my way back across the front of the park, along the Post Road, there was a commotion in the distance ahead of me. It was coming from the park on the Orienta side. When I got close, I saw them. Four big trees had fallen over in succession along the harbor wall, their branches stretched out toward the houses along Orienta Avenue. Police and fire personnel were scrambling to secure the area and cordon off the fallen trees.
That was when I had the second thought I remember to this day. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
But I did. I went into the park, I found people to talk to, and I wrote a story that, I hope, put some sort of human face on events that can feel quite inhuman for the people who are made to endure them with regularity.
Former Editor-in-Chief Mark Lungariello was, at one time, on the beat for The Harrison Report, as it was then known. When Sandy hit, he took his fiancé and two cameras back to the town for reasons not unlike those that drove me in Mamaroneck.
“When the Beaver Swamp [Brook] would flood, I would be thinking about people [in Harrison] more than my own place,” he said. “You worry about how many times some of these communities can see their streets turn into rivers.”
Rachel McCain preceded me as deputy editor. She was pressed into field service during Sandy’s aftermath and, for her, getting the images of the damage the superstorm wrought was important for another reason.
“The world needs to see that stuff so we don’t live our lives in this ‘that can’t happen here’ bubble,” she said.
Of course, I didn’t have Mark’s longevity on the beat, and Rachel was not a reporter by trade, so I wondered how someone in a similar circumstance to mine felt about covering something like Sandy.
Thankfully, I had just such a person.
Ashley Helms currently occupies my old position as the beat reporter for The Mamaroneck Review but in October 2012 she was writing for our Eastchester paper, The Town Report, as it was known then. Ashley and I started work for HomeTown Media Group, the parent company of this newspaper, on the same day, Sept. 7, 2012.
“I was nervous from the safety aspect of going out during the storm,” she said. “But that’s probably the first really important story I covered in the real world. I was kind of excited in a way, too, because it was a big story and it was a big deal.”
I should say Ashley was living in Connecticut when Sandy hit and ended up trapped in New York for a time after. Plus, though all of the communities in our coverage area suffered damage and lost power as a result of Sandy, Eastchester isn’t prone to the flooding that the Village of Mamaroneck is.
So, in the end, I’ve come to believe I had a rather unique experience among my peers in those two days in October 2012. I was new to a place that had suffered before, and was about to suffer again and, come what may, I was going to have to find a way to convey as much of that story as I could for the village about which I already cared. It’s not quite the situation in which anyone working around me, then or now, found themselves. I’m not sure if that makes me feel good or bad about the entire affair.
Did I do right by the Village of Mamaroneck during Sandy? I don’t know. I’d like to think I did—I certainly tried to—but only the readers are in a position to make that call.
I think, looking back, what I’ve come to believe about my Sandy experience is our readers may not always realize what’s going on on this side of the words.
Whether we’re revisiting our reporting past, looking to make a broader point, trying to do justice to both our community’s and newspaper’s history, or we’re just excited to be tackling a big story, there are people writing what you read in these newspapers.
People who think, worry and care about you more than you may know.
Reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JasonChirevas