ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In an area familiar with heavy storms and coastal floods, it seemed to take some convincing for many in Alexandria's Old Town community to get serious about Hurricane Sandy. Yesterday in a local Starbucks, neighbors talked nonchalantly about how they would fill a few water bottles "just in case," but vaunted that it was all much ado, and they weren't worried about much at all.
In fact, many of the conversations among those in the area expressed opinions that this storm was just another big scare without any bite, citing last year's hurricane Irene as an example, despite it causing massive power outages across the region.
Now within the context of concerted warnings from governemnt officials, and the city's closing of all public transportation services, schools and garbage pick up, the immediecy of the situation has sunk in, and correspondingly, the shelves of any business still open are empty and quiet.
City Manager Rashad M. Young signed a declaration of local emergency citing that "Hurricane Sandy is expected to be a powerful, historic storm with potentially damaging winds, rainfall, and storm surge that could cause flooding and other hazardous conditions in Alexandria."
In addition to the standard sandbags associated with flood prevention images, many public works employees have been busy clearing the autumn leaves from the gutters and streets, and encouraging residents to do the same as leaves dangerously clog up the drainiage channels and stop water from subsiding.
As the rain falls more intently, the winds pick up and the presence of local and national news crews dominate the waterfront scene, what's left to wonder is the question of when. And how bad?
"I went to get extra supplies because I think our house is going to be a hostel for friends who might get flooded or need a place to stay" said Alexandria resident, Marjorie Smith. From Utah, Smith and her roommates have offered their home to friends in the area, many far away from home, to wait out the storm.
Churches have also reached out via email and social media, encouraging their members to stay home and wait out the storm while offering tips and resources. Cities are also using their official websites as a resource for direct and updated information, and for offering tips like how to prevent sewer backups during a flood.
The Red Cross is also active in the D.C. area, setting up several shelters and response locations for emergencies that may arise from Sandy's landfall.
It's no longer the calm before the storm, and with Sandy here, many are now worrying about the aftermath. With the reaction of New York and the coverage of New Jersey, one fearful word isn't far from everyone's lips: Katrina. Many are wondering whether Sandy's impact, like the 2008 Hurricane that rocked the Gulf Coast, will be more severly felt in the days and weeks that follow.
One thing for sure, Sandy's approach has changed the tone of conversations along the East Coast. Perhaps because these conversations aren't happening among neighbors in local coffee shops and restaurants. After all, Starbucks is shuttered.
Joseph Peterson is a graduate from the University of Utah and a PR professional currently navigating life on the east coast. Follow him on twitter @planetjoseph