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Editorial: What have we learned from irene? Plan and be patient

September 4, 2011

As the dust settled and people around Southern Rhode Island were finally able to take stock of just how much damage was caused by last weekend’s encounter with Irene, a tropical storm by the time it graced the Ocean State with its presence, there was one lesson that really stood out more than any other.
Whether you were driving at the four-way intersection between Tower Hill Road and Ten Rod Road and waiting for a safe time to cross the road, clearing out a fallen tree from your backyard or sitting powerless in your living room trying to find ways to pass the time, it was clear, perhaps for the first time in a long time, just how important proper planning and patience can be when dealing with Mother Nature.
As Rhode Islanders, we don’t have to look far to see the last time we were caught off guard by a major storm.
The 2010 flood came largely out of nowhere and, within a span of a few hours, went from being just another rainy early spring day to a catastrophic event that decimated the lives and property of hundred of local residents.
The biggest reason the flood was so severe was because it was unexpected. Families didn’t have time to properly seal off their basements—or didn’t want to—and businesses were unequipped to deal with the rising waters.
To an extent, the average Rhode Island resident had no idea how to deal with such an unprecedented event and it showed in the fact that today, nearly two years later, signs from the flood still exist in several towns.
Compare that to this past weekend and it’s even more remarkable just how much times have changed.
The warning signs were all there well before the storm made landfall.
By Wednesday evening, the name Irene was at the forefront of our attention as a state and elected officials at all levels of government were on TV more than just about anyone not named Kardashian urging residents and businesses not to treat this storm lightly, to take the time and effort to be fully prepared.
And, surprisingly, it worked.
In a state whose residents are well known for their bitter reluctance to heed well thought out advice—whether its in properly planning for pension reform or budget cuts or potential tax increases—largely everyone took the time to buy supplies (as evidenced by the long lines at grocery and hardware stores) and, more importantly, stayed off the roads when the storm was at its worst.
There were, of course, some exceptions—such as the large surfing crowd testing the waters in Narragansett— but, by and large, people treated the storm as a serious threat and it paid off as most, if not all, of Irene’s damage should be cleared away by the time you read this.
More impressive, however, was just how patient everyone seemed to be with each other.
In Wickford Village Monday morning, the power was out and every business, no matter how big or small—from Rite Aid to Village Reflections—had to find ways to cope with losing money in an already beaten down economy.
Rather than agonize over their plight, owners like Bethany and Joe Mazza of Green Ink were laughing and cracking jokes while simultaneously stating how thankful they were that things weren’t much worse.
As National Grid does its best to get the state fully up and running again, it’s important to take that message to heart.
This weekend’s tropical storm could have been a lot worse than it turned out to be and while it would be nice to have the entire state powered up and ready to go, the fact that this storm’s impact will be a lot less than other natural disasters—such as the 2010 floods—speaks volumes to how well prepared and patient we all were during a time of crisis.
Hopefully that’s a lesson that doesn’t get forgotten the next time Rhode Island finds itself in the crosshairs of Mother Nature.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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