Long nights of power cuts’, does that ring a bell to you. Yes, of course, if you are born and raised in Chennai, the summer months and power cuts used to be the in-thing of the childhood days. Two hours of power cut in the evening just to ration the limited supply of power that was available in the hydro grid during summer months is something that comes to mind often. How much sweat and pain those evenings used to be? Yet it was time for the family to get together and sit outside in the courtyard, with the neighbour’s family making enough noise to offset ours. Planning to finish the dinner early when it is yet to get pitch dark used to be the summer month routine of the eighties. Well, for those who migrated to this side of the globe, are these power cuts going to become an unheard thing? Not seemingly so, when nature’s fury strikes hard in the name of hurricanes, tornadoes or forest fires.
“Last month, when the hurricane Isaias passed through us in New Jersey, the power lines got cut and it took five days to get restored. Statewide, over 1.4 million people got affected and it took days for the power to be back. No electricity would mean a totally shattered life for us, for everything from a phone to a stove is dependent on electricity. With the coronavirus going around, we were limited to staying at our homes. Choosing to stay in hotels or friends’ places was not an option,” said Ramana, a longtime resident of New Jersey.
“This is the story every year in the township when strong gusty winds play havoc. Sandy and Irene too had stories of long power cuts to write about. But the way the utilities care and work towards keeping us comfortable is something that makes these times of handling the situation easy. There are constant updates from the utility company on the restoration timelines. Options to rent gas stoves or generators are the easy options that come handy in planning to handle the hurricane damage. Once the warnings are being issued the preparedness and planning of the emergency kit begins in every household. Many times, the customers also get compensated for the non-working of the refrigerators and gadgets for many days due to delay in restoring power.
Another newer thought of preparedness that the Indian immigrants have to get ready with is earthquake preparedness. “It is just a practice to have our earthquake kit, consisting of one suitcase of our belongings, from the dress, first-aid kits, toiletries and beddings, made available in the car,” said Rajamani a long-time resident of California. “The state being on the fault line many times, we have experienced mild to severe shakes and all we have to do is just take shelter at safe places. So, our car trunk always has the necessities stacked, including emergency food boxes,” he said.
The latest and ongoing trouble from nature is forest fires. Worst this year our fires are spreading wide and so furiously that evacuation warnings have been issued to even interiors that used to be never the case before, said a resident of Fremont in California. The ashes are all there and we can visibly see them over our cars and rooftops. These forest fires are becoming an in thing of late and we always have the emergency kits in our cars, ever ready to evacuate when the emergency warnings are issued.
Always the tornadoes are a cause of concern in states like Texas. Sudden emergency warnings would mean all of us will have to get to the basement and hold to solid structures. A few minutes of a tornado passing by may leave our house roofless and leave us homeless.
These natural calamities are often repeating things in most parts of the US and the damage these inflict on the lives of the people are too much to reconcile with, particularly for the Indian Americans for whom all these are quite new experiences. Once we lose power due to the calamity or there is damage to the house structure, it really takes a lot of time to do the damage control. The power is one thing that takes too much time. The thought that we will have no roof for us to take shelter will be emotionally disturbing if we are living in India, but the experiences here are just so different. We are now tuned to take it in as just another thing in our lives. Any day this could be at our doors is a general feeling.
But the professionalism behind fixing processes is again something very new experience as such. The huge insurance process takes care of fixing and covering the cost of reconstructing the damaged structures.
The many headaches of financial implications are taken care of. But still, the simple power cut takes a week to restore in those days reiterating the fact that living in the most developed nation of the world may not be devoid of challenges that nature poses. Interestingly, the individual families have to battle these all by themselves. The comfort of extended families and friends is a luxury for most people. For sure, next time there is a power cut do not think you are alone. Discomfort is everywhere waiting as nature keeps portraying its supremacy over mankind.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York