But I have another friend for whom it was not a funny joke. He lives in Vandemere, NC, on the edge of the water, and Pamlico County, where tiny Vandemere is (it's near Oriental, NC) was the hardest hit county in this top-ten disaster storm.
Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was popularly known to be the storm of the century down here because of the unprecedented devastation it inflicted when it came ashore, he explained to me, but the storm surge when Irene came ashore in the region was higher than Isabel's. By two and a half feet.
My friend estimates Vandemere has 120 houses, and that probably 80 of them were breached by seawater. Houses in town were flooded that never took in water before, not even during Isabel. My friend's house is on stilts and the water came to within two feet of invading his floorboards.
As usual during hurricanes, townsfolk parked their cars at the firehouse, which had always remained dry in every storm. All the cars were flooded with seawater up to their dashboards and totaled.
His house high atop its stilts became like a stationary ark on storm-tossed seas, with the ocean rolling around just under it and waves lashing the pilings. The thick trunks of the trees in his yard emerged from the wind-whipped waters and rode out the storm alongside the house.
I came down this past weekend to help my friend clean up because he lost everything he had stored in his outer buildings, which constituted many of his lifelong treasures like old books, his parents' furniture, photographs and old construction-paper cards to him from his school-age children on special occasions. He sadly explained that he thought they were all stored on shelves high enough to remain dry even during the worst storm, as we surveyed the sodden mess. For the past two days while he carefully separates stuck-together pages of photo albums which have recorded his life hoping to salvage ruined remembrances, I plow through the treasures-turned-trash and dump most of them in garbage bags.
In town the scenes of disaster are worse as practically every house has mountainous piles of water-stained mattresses, warped wood, ruined carpeting, soggy insulation and waterlogged furniture heaped on the curb. But everyone down here is working at recovery, thankful for what remains rather than despondent over what's lost, and the spirit imbuing this town is indomitable.