Natural disasters affect different people in different ways. I've been through a couple: the Loma Prieta earthquake, which rocked the San Francisco Bay Area on October 17, 1989, and more recently, Hurricane Iselle.
Iselle blasted ashore on the southeast coast of the Big Island of Hawaii the night of August 7, 2014. Many people, myself included, thought, "Oh, it's just another storm that's getting a lot of media attention." Even though it was downgraded to a tropical storm soon after it hit, the 65 mile-an-hour winds and heavy rain caused a great deal of damage to this rural part of Hawaii. Homes were destroyed due to trees falling on them and the storm surge that flooded coastal areas, such as Kapoho.
Trees and large branches crashed onto highways, residential streets and into forested areas in unpopulated areas, such as Lava Trees State Park, south of the village of Pahoa. Thankfully, the main city of Hilo escaped any serious damage.
The most long-lasting damage came in the form of the outage of electrical and telephone services. I was lucky -- electricity to my neighborhood was restored within 48 hours. However, other homes in the same subdivision were without electricity for two weeks or longer. Electricity drives our lights, televisions, computers and refrigerators, and pumps water from large holding tanks on our properties into our homes. No electricity equals no water, which is much harder to live with than a simple lack of TV.
Restoration of telephone and Internet services took much longer. At my home, we were without it for nearly three weeks. I'm talking about Hawaiian Telcom: several other providers offer cell phone and Internet service. But I am with Hawaiian Telcom, and although they were great in connecting me with a live human the several times I called (from my cell phone, which gets inferior service here) to check on the status of restoration, evidently they had to ship certain materials from the U.S. mainland to complete repairs. The first representative I spoke with offered to give me free call forwarding from my landline to my cell phone, which was a godsend.
The psychological effects of the storm were a surprise to me. I can speak only for myself, but I fell into a lethargic, depressive state after the initial panic over the lack of electricity subsided. I said to several people several times that I "have nothing to do." I started sleeping late and watched a lot of my old videotapes and DVDs. I did no writing, but cleaned out and backed up my computer and re-organized a bunch of folders. I entered all of the names and contact information from my old Rolodex into my computer address book and threw away my Rolodex and all of the little cards that were in it. I used my cell phone to check e-mail and some news, but stopped doing that after receiving charges for excess data usage.
Bottom line: I learned that I am happier when I have writing projects to do. Coincidentally, the alternative newspaper for which I wrote since 2002 ceased publication nine days before the hurricane. That had been my connection to many people and to the community, and suddenly it was gone. And then my connection to the outside world, meaning the Internet, was gone as well. I felt lost and isolated. I realized how dependent I am on this aspect of technology and how much it contributes to keeping up with current events, entertainment, my feelings of self worth and friendships. Robin Williams' death on August 11 provided a double whammy: it was very difficult not to be able to watch and read tributes and additional news -- I'm just now catching up on that.
I tried to remain hopeful and thankful throughout this period -- I was among the lucky ones who had electricity so quickly; my two homes and property were unscathed; my vehicle, pets and life were spared. No one died due to the storm. I'm just now, three weeks later, starting to feel "normal" again and I wonder how long, if ever, it takes people who have endured far worse disasters to regain their balance and momentum.