By Jonathan Weil

It was a stunning sight last night as I was driving up Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore, evacuating with my family to safer ground as Hurricane Irene made its way up the east coast.

The restaurants were packed along the seven-mile drive from the little town of Beach Haven to the bridge across Manahawkin Bay that leads west to the mainland. Not one building was boarded up. I didn't see a single window all day with storm shutters on it. It was as if the place felt immune, notwithstanding the hurricane watch issued yesterday morning.

I shudder to think this may be an accurate indicator of how well prepared coastal residents and business owners in the Northeast are for a direct hit. I grew up in South Florida, where the locals take hurricane-preparedness seriously based on long and painful experience. Up here where canes come about as frequently as earthquakes -- could we really have both in less than a week? -- folks don't seem to have a clue.

We are holed up for now in a hotel room well inland, unsure of when we'll be able to return to the cute little condo that we rented a block from the beach. Hopefully it will still be there next week after the storm passes.

(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist)

-0- Aug/26/2011 14:08 GMT