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Photographing the Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene left twenty one dead, five million without power, and property damage of at least seven billion dollars. Yet despite this wide spread devastation, there are still many who felt the media unnecessarily overhyped the story. While I can understand a certain level of skepticism directed at today's nonstop news cycle, my experience with the storm proved just how powerful nature can be. In fact, seeing the destruction through my lens made it that much more real.

Much like the damage I photographed after the March 2010 Nor'easter, downed trees and scattered debris are all to be expected when winds exceed 55 mph. Hurricane Irene also brought major flooding with heavy rain, and a storm surge that forced ocean waters into the streets. As I drove around to survey the damage, many roads were simply not passable. I spoke with one exasperated homeowner whose entire first floor and basement were underwater. Neighbors repurposed their snow plows in an attempt to push the waters back towards the bay. Chainsaws rumbled in the distance as residents worked to clear fallen trees.

As a photographer, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement as you look for the areas with the most damage.  While searching for dramatic pictures, I had to remind myself to be cautious of falling tree limbs, downed electrical wires, and the very real possibility of becoming trapped on a flooded street. One wrong move, and you can become part of the rescue efforts instead of the person documenting it. Capturing images is important, but the safety of yourself and others must be taken into consideration.

My gear was very simple with a DSLR and 17-40mm wide angle zoom lens. Packing light made it easy to hop in and out of the car, take the shots I needed, and move on quickly. I used an aperture of f8 for most images to provide enough depth of field. This coupled with a higher ISO of 400 allowed  me to hand hold the camera at a fast enough shutter (1/125) to prevent any shake.

My electronic gadgets are charging in the public Library's outlets while I type this. A fallen tree limb crashed onto the neighborhood transformer causing the entire block to lose power.  Traffic lights remain dark. Although we are cooking on a charcoal hibachi and most residents are without hot water, we are the lucky ones. My heart goes out to the families who lost someone as a result of this storm.



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