We were sitting down to a late dinner on Monday night when the storm was supposed to hit. It was incredibly windy but the rain really hadn’t been that bad. The past two days we spent working to get everything up from our basement floor might have been unnecessary, we foolishly thought. But still we prepared and placed everything down there at least three feet up off the floor in plastic crates.
Living in Zone B of Brooklyn, we didn’t have to evacuate like those in Zone A did.
So we bunkered down and waited the whole day for the storm to make landfall, thinking we’d fare well, as long as the trees didn’t go down. Things would probably be okay. At 9 p.m., I told my husband we did a good job.
By 10 p.m., the skies lit up in a purple and blue brilliance and the power started to go out here and there. On top of the hurricane, a tropical cyclone had developed, according to the news. That’s when I noticed neighbors across the street running out of their homes and fire trucks racing down the block. I saw a trickle of steady water coming down the street on both sides and then water began pouring in through the creaks in the basement door, so my husband went to grab the pump. He went upstairs to get a tool and in those few seconds, ocean waves broke the steel door lock and flooded the basement 6 feet high in minutes. Appliances toppled along the basement ceiling. I had my kids put their shoes on and leashed up the dogs ready to make a run for it, not even knowing where to go, wondering what would happen if the car got stuck in the water.
To say that the water rushed in fast is an understatement. One minute we had a dry house and the next minute, four feet of the sea were rushing down our block.
The ocean had reached high tide and came crashing into every house around it. Although we are not near the ocean itself, but close to a bay, our neighborhood was not believed to be in danger from high tide. We waited a few minutes to see how high the basement got. If it reached our first floor, we’d leave, but luckily it stayed in the cellar. One Staten Island police officer was not as fortunate as my husband and when his basement door crashed in, he was down there. An appliance trapped him and he drowned.
To say that the water rushed in fast is an understatement. One minute we had a dry house and the next minute, four feet of the sea were rushing down our block. A Staten Island mom was holding onto her two young children when ocean waves forced them out of her arms. Their little bodies were recovered on Thursday. 110 homes in Rockaway Beach, New York, burned down to the ground.
We were lucky. We are safe and together.
Everything in our basement was destroyed: the furnace, boiler, washing machine, and dryer. Expensive, but replaceable. Then there are things that cannot be replaced: my kids’ baby albums, baptism videos, our wedding album, my wedding video, countless videos of trips to my parents’ house, holidays, and special events. My daughter’s high school yearbook. Some of my first published academic pieces. Notes to and from my uncle who passed away.
But we are lucky because we are still here to make more memories.
Police are still recovering swollen bodies and it has been said that NYC resembles New Orleans after Katrina barreled though. In many ways, they are right, looting has become widespread in some areas and people have been trapped for days without food, water, or any basic sanitation. Still others are in shelters with nothing but the clothes on their backs. One woman was with her 89-year-old mother when the waves came and they held onto to each other in ice cold water up to their necks inside their own living room for most of the night until her elderly mother gave up and died in her arms. Neighbors screamed words of encouragement to hang on, that were trying their best to help, but it was too late. These are the gut-wrenching stories that will forever stay in my mind.
The news shows you the status of traffic (horrendous at best) and photos of burned down houses and fallen trees. They show Mayor Bloomberg ringing the NYSE bell and saying that we will push on, move forward and rebuild and of course, we will. But the suffering now is palpable.
I’m not sure the neighborhoods that were not affected can fully understand how much so many people are still suffering.
Shelters are running out of food and water while countless others are still waiting to go to shelters. Some are just now realizing that their house is unlivable; their floors are giving way, their structures are failing them. School is supposed to start back up on Monday and all I can think about are the hundreds of kids who have no clothes, or backpacks or books. How will they be able to focus on tests and papers?
The air smells of fire, salt water and despair. People are fighting in the streets over the lack of gas for their car, streetlights are out, and tempers are flaring. Family members cannot locate loved ones and/or pets. The New York Aquarium has been closed indefinitely after being completely under water. Ambulances and fire trucks still are racing down the street helping victims. Yet in many other neighborhoods, life is merely inconvenient and perhaps, according to some Facebook status updates, boring, since having nowhere to go for so long. It’s startling to see just how much life stops smack in the middle of New York City, even during a natural disaster.
The uplifting stories will melt your heart: the nurses who carried 20 newborns down 9 flights of stairs while evacuating NYU Hospital, the Humane Society, Red Cross, and shelters like North Shore Animal Center, that rescued the furry members of our families with boats and trucks, and every single first responder who stayed out all night for days on end to help those who needed it, jeopardizing their own lives. And then all the people in every part of the United States who are praying and sending thoughts to everyone affected by Sandy.
It means a lot…especially when people understand that while the hurricane may have gone away, the destruction and despair is still happening and will continue for weeks, if not months to come.
What was it like seven days after Sandy? Read Danielle’s personal account here.