Rosalind Campion portrait

Rosalind Campion

Counsellor for Global Issues

Part of UK in USA

5th November 2012 Washington DC, USA

Washington, New York, and the Blustery Day

Last weekend while sitting in the TEDx MidAtlantic conference, I found myself feeling edgy. I kept compulsively checking my e-mails and Twitter feed for mentions of “Sandy”.

After almost a year in Washington DC, hurricane Sandy was my first experience of extreme weather in the US. Which is why, as photographs of empty DC grocery shop aisles popped up, I marched Layla out of the auditorium at lunchtime, and straight to the nearest supermarket to join others in buying in stocks of food and gallons of water.

We downloaded the Red Cross app, and prepared as it advised us, including filling our bath with water, withdrawing cash from the ATM, and charging all our devices. I fretted about being unable to carry out the ‘sleep in the basement’ instruction since we live in an apartment on the second floor. Luckily enough, Sandy passed us by with some strong winds, some tumbling trees, and rain significant enough to make water drip in through our smoke alarm (I can now confirm that smoke alarms can also function as a piercing water alarm).

Thankfully, that was it. I felt I might have gone a bit over the top with all the preparations. Then again, maybe not.

We sat listening to the gale, and wondering if the full impact was going to hit us; hours later, my colleagues in New York found out that it hit them instead – and like others in New York state and New Jersey they were hit badly. The Embassy had all hands on deck making sure that staff and British citizens in affected areas were okay.

Not only did those working in the consulate have to cope with their personal challenges caused by the storm, fifty seven Brits came seeking help to the British Consulate in New York.

At least 80 people have died due to Sandy in the USA (and nearly that many again in the Carribean). 4.5 million lost power. Many thousands have nowhere to live now. It really disturbs me to think of how lucky we were. If that weather system had taken just a slightly different route, it could have blasted the capital’s infrastructure, and left us hungry and homeless. Or at the very least, sent a tree crashing through our window.

We could easily have really needed that water waiting in the bath. Others did. It made me think about how tenuous and vulnerable our lifestyle is to the whims of the weather –  and the feeling is a lot more acute here than it ever was in our London city centre apartment.

And now, with the clean-up job in progress, thoughts have turned to the possible impact on Tuesday’s election, hesitation over whether to cancel the New York marathon (they did, at the last minute, with many runners apparently turning instead to help deliver groceries and generally make themselves useful, circumnavigating public transport issues by running between locations to deliver help where it is needed), how to find food and fuel in the worst-hit areas, and how to reconstruct the parts of the East Coast that were flooded and battered.

The US is resilient, but the costs will be considerable.

Of course, watching the news from Britain, our friends and family have been worrying about Layla and me. We reassure them that we were far from the scary stuff. But as we watch people on TV wading through flooded towns, having lost their possessions, I can’t help but think how close it came to that being us. And how close we might come again. Those emergency gallons of water are staying right where they are.

You can donate to the Red Cross in the US and UK.

About Rosalind Campion

Rosalind Campion was appointed Counsellor for Global Issues at the British Embassy in Washington DC in 2011. Her team works on policy issues including trade, business, energy, the environment, science,…

Rosalind Campion was appointed Counsellor for Global Issues at the British Embassy in Washington DC in 2011. Her team works on policy issues including trade, business, energy, the environment, science, innovation and transport.

Originally a corporate lawyer working in London on intellectual property issues, Roz was most recently with the Ministry of Justice, where she set up and ran the Sentencing Council, the national organisation responsible for ensuring a consistent approach to criminal sentencing by the UK’s judiciary.

She has previous experience working on foreign policy issues, including during her time at the Ministry of Justice, as well as through her work with the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency and as a lawyer working on international law cases for a top human rights litigation firm.

During her time in academia, Roz was responsible for the public international law programme at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, where she specialised in international trade and environment law.

She lives in Georgetown with her partner, Dr Layla McCay.

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