Hurricane Sandy was not a surprise. Tricia Charbonneau, formerly of Washington and now living in New Jersey, her husband Mark, and two children Leyla, 6, and Luke, 3, said they were prepared for the storm that hit the northeastern coast Monday, Oct. 29.
What they were not prepared for, however, is the possibility of going without power for a month, which is now a more of a probability than a possibility, and the gas outages occurring throughout the state.
In fact, more than 582,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey still did not have electricity eight days after the hurricane swept through the coast.
Mark Charbonneau, who grew up in New Jersey, said this is the worse storm New Jersey has seen.
“The Jersey shore is completely devastated,” he said.
The family lives in the Clinton Township, a rural area similar to rural areas in Franklin County.
“It’s definitely challenging having two small children with no heat or running water,” Tricia Charbonneau said, adding that for the first five days, neighbors who had generators invited them over for dinner and hot showers.
“It’s kind of a support system,” Mark Charbonneau added.
The couple owns New Jersey Provision Company, a wholesale food business that provides food to restaurants. Mark Charbonneau said customers have been calling saying their businesses are gone.
“It’s hard to say we have it rough when people’s entire livelihoods are lost,” he said.
Post Hurricane Sandy, Halloween was canceled, and school classes were canceled through Nov. 6. Many schools still have not reopened.
They were not evacuated from their home, and began preparing for the storm about a week in advance.
They made sure they had the ability to cook, filled two propane tanks, picked up bottled water to drink and filled bathtubs with water.
They knew if power was out, the well, which runs on electricity, would not work. They stockpiled canned goods, flashlights, batteries, candles and extra blankets.
“The weather is cold which is very hard for sleeping, but is keeping perishables fresh,” Mark Charbonneau said.
One friend stood in line for four hours, waiting for a truck to deliver generators. That friend, who ended up not losing power, loaned the generator to the Charbonneau family.
“We’re thankful that by day five, we had a generator for water and heat,” Tricia said, noting that the generator would provide electricity for the well or for heat, but not both at the same time.
The couple had an electrician properly hook up the generator, which will become a permanent fixture at the Charbonneau home.
The problem is that the generator uses gas, which is a highly sought after commodity in the state of New Jersey.
“There would be a three-hour wait at the gas station,” Tricia said. “Then the gas station would run out of gas.”
To bypass the shortage, the Charbonneaus have been driving to Pennsylvania, about 35 minutes away, to get gas.
The state also has implemented a gas rationing system using license plate numbers. The last number or letter of the license plate determines what day the owners can get gas.
Letters A to M are considered even and N to Z are considered odd. Even plates can only get gas on even numbered days, and vice versa.
Tricia said the rationing has provided some relief at the pumps.
“Everyone is conserving gas as much as possible. No one wants to waste it,” Tricia said. “There’s a high need for gas and it’s been hard to find.”
Rather than a social media hangout, Facebook has become a necessary news source. Tricia said the only updates they can get about the storm are through Facebook.
People post which gas stations have gas, where there are fewer lines, as well as places where people can get relief.
Still Without Power
The Charbonneaus have been told their power may be restored by Nov. 12.
“The power companies are doing the best they can,” Tricia said. “There were just too many people hit with the storm at the same time. This is something we’ve never had to deal with.”
Hurricane Sandy is the third storm in one year that has caused a power loss for the Charbonneau family. The first, a snowstorm in October 2011, left them without power for six days.
The second, a rainstorm in July 2012, left them powerless for two days.
“Our power problem is not a quick fix,” Tricia said, noting the rural location of their home. First, a forestry division has to clear downed trees so the power companies can even get to the transformers.
“It’s a tangled mess,” she said.
The Charbonneaus said they will definitely make sure to purchase a generator to keep at their home.
The most important lesson, though, she said, is to take advice from local and state government officials and the office of emergency management.
“Take warnings seriously. Heed the warnings to ensure the safety of your family,” Tricia said.
Now, the family will continue to deal with the aftereffect of the hurricane while preparing for a major snowstorm. The brunt of the storm is expected to hit Wednesday evening, further damaging the coastal areas with flooding and hindering power restoration.
Disaster resources, relief services and ways to help are available at NJ.com.
Despite their circumstances, the Charbonneaus have been able to stay positive.
“While it seems like there may be a lot of negatives, this certainly has given us the opportunity to teach our kids compassion for those less fortunate. We know those in the coastal areas are suffering far worse than us,” Tricia said. The family packed up clothes, books and other donations for those in need.
“We’re also appreciating the gift of each other,” she said. Tricia pointed out that the usual distractions of TV, iPads or the Internet are no longer distractions.
“We’re back to playing board games, and Legos and having campouts with flashlights for bedtime stories,” she said. “It has definitely been a good reminder of what really matters most.”
The Charbonneaus said their faith also has helped propel them through the past several days and that their children show appreciation even for small blessings — like having a hot meal for dinner.
“We know that ‘this too shall pass,’ ” she said.
Tricia is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Halmich. She is a graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School and Missouri State University.