Updated: Wednesday, 16th April 2014 @ 6:13am

Superstorm Sandy: Wigan woman tells of 'genuine terror' at racing across US to be with family when storm hit

Superstorm Sandy: Wigan woman tells of 'genuine terror' at racing across US to be with family when storm hit

Exclusive by Thomas McCooey

As Superstorm Sandy left a trail of destruction and death across the American east coast this week, one Wigan woman raced across the continent to be with her family when the storm hit.

Emily Plowman, 32, is from Swinley in Wigan, but moved to Philidelphia four years ago, with her husband John Foley.

Meanwhile, Emily’s friends in Wigan, spent the early part of this week glued to their phones to keep tabs on her safety when Philadelphia closed its bridges and main roads as it prepared for lockdown. 

Emily raced the clock to get make the 1,400 mile journey from Austin, Texas, before scores flights were cancelled on Sunday evening. More than 12,000 flights were cancelled during the storm’s length.

“I’ve never been so scared. The scariest part for me was trying to get home to Philadelphia in time to prepare for the hurricane and to be with my loved ones, it was genuinely terrifying,” said Emily, speaking from home after the storm.

She continued: “We managed to fly from Austin to Dallas unscathed but then we were delayed in Dallas for four hours before finally making it up in the air. It was a bit of a bumpy ride but we arrived back home to Philadelphia safe and sound.”

But once on the ground in Philadelphia and not knowing how much of Sandy’s force the city would absorb, Emily’s worries turned to her husband John, a Pharmacy Team Leader at the Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience in the city.

John was working from the hospital the night the storm hit and had to ensure the safety of others before he could think about getting home.

John said: “I've always been fascinated by weather events so to be part of the team responsible for co-ordinating a response within the pharmacy department was certainly an interesting change of pace.”

The change of pace was only one of the challenges John was faced with though as he said that the declaration of a weather emergency enacted policies and procedures within the hospital to ensure emergency staff would stay overnight, which turned out to number around 100.

“Within our department we had twice daily meetings of the management team devoted to staffing and communication,” said John.

He added: “All of our public transit was shut down pre-emptively so the real challenge for us in the department of pharmacy was making sure we could get pharmacists into work and arrange for the next 48 hours of shift coverage.”

John did eventually manage to leave work and brave the conditions to be with his wife but the empty streets were in some ways a blessing as he made his journey across the city ‘in record time’.

Once home, he and Emily were relatively protected from the storm apart from minor flooding but the story was different for her sister who lives an hour’s train ride to the North away from Philadelphia in Queen’s, New York. 

Emily said: “My sister and her family have a lot of trees down in their area. A lot of people in New York City are without power and the subway system is inoperable.”

Emily's sister is married to Patrick Wehle, Director of Office of City Legislative Affairs for New York. Mr Wehle revealed that New York took a huge hit from Sandy, leaving 800,000 people without power and leaving the city that never sleeps at a complete standstill for 12 of the 36-hour storm.

Mr Wehle catalogued just some of the damage his city has to recover from.

“One neighborhood – Breezy Point in Rockaway, Queens – lost one hundred homes to fire that because of the high winds easily jumped from one home to the next,” he said.

“The City’s infrastructure, much of which was built a century ago was no match for the storm surges,” Mr Wehle explained. “Tunnels used for transporting cars and trains are flooded and the water needs to be pumped out.  A rail tunnel from Manhattan to New Jersey has five miles of water five feet deep.”

Trading was also suspended on Wall Street for two consecutive days for the first time since 1888 for weather related causes.

Despite the devastation, which at the storm’s height was the subject of 10 pictures per second with the hashtag Sandy being uploaded to Instagram, Mr Wehle said he never felt in danger at his home, also in Queens, and spent the duration with his wife and two young daughters. On the experience, Mr Wehle said: “I just wanted to enjoy listening to the wind howl and the trees dance.”

Emily, who used to work assisting international students at Wigan and Leigh College is relieved her family are safe though, and is defiant in the wake of the damage the storm has caused: “People have already started to work together to rebuild and I am confident they will eventually get their cities back on their feet.”

Photo courtesy of iakoubtchik, with thanks.

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