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In the Path of Super Storm Sandy

I'm a counselor and freelance writer with years of online writing experience. My writing covers a large range of topics.

Decades ago, in 1982, the World Meteorological Organization chose the name Sandy in their alphabetical list of named Atlantic storms, never knowing that this would become a storm of immense proportions that would affect much of the eastern seaboard, turning some of the most densely populated sections of the United States into disaster areas.

On Monday, October 29, 2012, Sandy slammed into the New York and New Jersey coast, affecting lives, flooding areas, destroying homes and buildings, and cutting off electricity to millions of people for an extended period of time.

Hurricane Sandy and the Caribbean

Sandy began as a low pressure system near Africa where most hurricanes originate. By October 22, it became organized enough to be called a tropical depression, south of the island of Jamaica. By October 24, an eye began to form and became classified as a hurricane. It ravaged the Caribbean hitting island by island on a daily basis. Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico (not as a hurricane), and then the Bahamas on October 27, all experienced flooding, death tolls, and destruction.

Still 250 miles away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the storm was moving about six miles an hour, inching ever northward toward the eastern coast of the United States.

A Storm From North Carolina to Maine

From Florida to Wisconsin, the roar of Sandy would soon be felt. As the superstorm approached Florida, earthquake monitoring systems were able to measure the huge waves caused by the winds from Sandy, churning up the seas.

Florida was affected by tropical storm winds and flooding. By October 28, the storm began to re-intensify, and the eye redeveloped, creating strong winds, flooding, and storm damage. From North Carolina to Maine, weather forecasters warned of a super storm that would bring high surf surges, record breaking flooding, high winds, and power outages to the most populous areas of the United States.

The predictions grew ever more ominous that more than a hurricane may actually make landfall in the New York, New Jersey region, a very rare occurrence, and even rarer this time of year at the end of October. Hurricane Sandy was predicted to be a storm of massive and unprecedented proportions . . . and it was.

Hurricane Sandy is twice the size of the state of Texas.

Hurricane Sandy is twice the size of the state of Texas.

A Little Geography About Long Island

With winds extending out 520 miles and causing 8.5 million power outages over 21 states, many were affected by Sandy. The greatest impact of this super storm was felt in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area.

I live in Nassau County, Long Island, in New York, 20 miles east of Manhattan, and 4 miles north of the beaches by the Atlantic Ocean.

Long Island was created about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago from melting glacial ice sheets that caused this small land mass to separate from New England and sits precariously out in the Atlantic Ocean, near the mainland of New York.

Long Island is surrounded by the Long Island Sound on the north side, which separates it from Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean on the south side and east side, and New York Harbor on the west side, which separates it from Manhattan. The only way on and off of Long Island is by several bridges or by boat.

Long Island consists of the counties of Kings County (Brooklyn) and Queens County, which are part of New York City, and Nassau and Suffolk County, which are known as “The Island”. Long Island is 118 miles long and 12 to 23 miles at its widest point.

Approximately 7.5 million people live on this island, 38% of this population resides in the suburban communities in Nassau and Suffolk county, which occupy 87% of the Long Island land mass. 62% of the population of Long Island lives in Brooklyn and Queens on 13% portion of this land. When people say they are from Long Island, they are always referring to the suburbs, not Brooklyn and Queens.

Long Island is relatively flat, with over 600 miles of coastline surrounding its perimeter. The north shore, by the Long Island sound has rocky beaches and is known for its mansions, where the book The Great Gatsby takes place.

The south shore is known for its beautiful sandy beaches and picturesque scenes that line the Atlantic Ocean. We rarely travel out of NY, in the summer, because we enjoy the benefits the seashore beholds. New York can be crowded and bustling, but of all the places I have traveled, our beaches are a place to get away for the day and relax. I have always appreciated the unmatched beauty of our Long Island shore. My childhood summers were at the beaches. As an adult, with my children, we have enjoyed so many memories and fun along the island seashore.

Long Island Population

When people from New York refer to Long Island, they are only talking about Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Geographically, part of New York City, (Brooklyn and Queens) are also part of Long Island.

Long Island Nassau & Suffolk County (Long Island)Kings (Brooklyn) & Queens County

Population: 7.5 million people

38% of the population

62% of the population

Size: 118 miles long, 12-23 miles wide

live on 87% portion of the land

live on 13% portion of the land

Sandy morphs from a hurricane into a super storm as it approaches the northeast coast of the United States.

Sandy morphs from a hurricane into a super storm as it approaches the northeast coast of the United States.

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Super Storm Sandy Seems Threatening

As weather patterns changed over the years, there became more talk recently, that we were due for a big hurricane, much like the one that had hit Long Island in 1938, known as the Long Island Express. Although we sit out in the Atlantic Ocean, vulnerable to the weather patterns that often exist in the open seas, our cooler water temperatures often make it difficult for tropical storms and hurricanes to make their way this far north.

The few hurricanes that made it to New York in recent decades, have done relatively little damage to our island or to Manhattan. Hurricane Irene hit us last year, but was only an inkling of what was in store for us with super storm Sandy. It was very unusual for us to have two consecutive years of hurricanes.

As the weather forecasters gave their predictions, each day it became more apparent we were in for a big storm. No one anticipated all that happened to New Jersey, Manhattan, and the beach side communities from one end of Long Island to the other. I am always humble to the power of nature so a few days before I started to make the necessary preparations for this storm. I made sure we had plenty of flashlights and batteries, we charged our cell phones, laptops, and other electronics. I made sure the transistor radio and boombox worked. I filled the car up with gas, took cash out of the bank, and made sure we had plenty of bottled water. I made sure anything outside was securely fashioned so it wouldn’t blow away.

I met some people who made the same and even more preparations than I did, and I met some who did not believe the forecasters and chose instead to do nothing, believing that everything was hype and being overblown. It was true that most hurricanes don’t make it up this far. They didn't believe the forecast but I don't think anyone thinks this storm was hype now!

Before the Storm

As the sun rose on a very cloudy October 29th, an ever increasing hard rain began to pound outside, the wind steadily picked up and the weather forecasters warned of an impending immense hurricane that would make an unprecedented left turn somewhere between New York and New Jersey.

The storm would then collide with another front coming from the west and make landfall at the hour of high tide and a full moon. I knew this storm would have some impact on us, but I never dreamed it would put us in such a hardship condition for such a long period of time.

The oceanfront communities had a mandatory evacuation due to the huge surges that were expected. Many in those towns, chose not to leave. As Sandy’s power steadily increased, I could see the evergreen trees in my backyard sway to the music of the wind. The storm was still several states away.

First daylight look at Long Island flooding from Super Storm Sandy. Photo taken October 30, 2012,

First daylight look at Long Island flooding from Super Storm Sandy. Photo taken October 30, 2012,

Super Storm Sandy

We closely watched television, as our governor announced all the bridges and tunnels leading into and out of Manhattan would be closed by 7 p.m. due to the strong winds. There would be no way off Long Island. All trains would be halted from the possibility of flooding on the railway.

We stayed on Facebook to keep track of friends, and we huddled together in our family room, not quite sure what to expect from this huge and ominous approaching storm. By 2:30 in the afternoon, the first of our friends lost their power due to a toppled tree on the power lines nearby. By 4:30, more announced their lights were flickering and then we lost contact with them unless they used their cell phones. Between 7 and 8 p.m. the storm was expected to make landfall. At 7 p.m., we lost our electricity, not to have it return for two full weeks.

A little after 8 p.m. I could hear water rushing outside. When I looked out of the front of my house, the street had turned into a fast rising river. Neighbors scrambled to get their cars off of the road to save them from the ravages of the salt water filling up the block. Three feet of water surrounded my house. When I opened the door inside my home to my basement, I could see the rushing water broke through my back basement door, bending it up to the doorknob. The incoming water sounded like a river, as I helplessly watched five feet of water fill up, my beautiful finished basement, not knowing when the water would stop.

We became alarmed that the water may reach our first floor, so we picked up everything from the floor and retreated to our second floor. In the morning, luckily the water rose no higher than the night before, but nearly everything in my basement was destroyed. At about 9 p.m., depending on where you were in my community, some people were able to see a sparkle of lights and an array of colors lining the night sky for nearly 30 minutes. We all found out the next day, that it was the power plant exploding from the forces of the flooding water.

When daylight came, I was able to see what happened in my basement. The water was now only two and a half feet high. I felt lucky, the water did not reach my first floor. The things destroyed were only stuff, and we will always have the memories of the wonderful fun and many celebrations we had in the basement. But I also lost my furnace, my hot water heater, my washer, my dryer, and the electrical sub box that that controlled only the basement, and my foundation shifted. I lost some family photos and some valued momentos from my Mom. But I was able to salvage family pictures from my mother’s side of the family, and miraculously a favored photo of my father and one I had never seen of my mother did not get wet at all. I found my book of poems I wrote as a teen. It is water logged, but I am hoping the pages will dry out.

Boats are thrown into a gas station, Island Park, NY.

Boats are thrown into a gas station, Island Park, NY.

Assessing the Damage

Still, I am one of the lucky ones. Many people lost their entire homes and some fled so fast, from the rising, rushing water, that they do not even have any shoes for their children. In other communities, some did not even make it through the storm.

So I am not complaining. Although it has been eight weeks since Sandy hit, and I still have no heat or hot water, in temperatures that reach as low as 34 degrees. We are on a list to get a boiler and a hot water heater. But in these past weeks there were other tough times we had to endure.

I live five blocks from a canal and over a mile away from the bay. I found washed up fish in my backyard from the same water that went rushing into my basement. Luckily no fish landed in my basement.The pond in my front yard was destroyed by the salt water, as were the two pumps that powered the waterfalls, and my fish in the fish tank in my house were not able to survive with no electricity to power the bubbles that aerated their water.

A gas shortage ensued, due to no electricity to power the pumps at the gas stations and no ability for the oil tankers to get into the harbor in Manhattan because so much debris was in the way.

The sewage water processing plant was damaged and we were told to conserve water, so that the waste did not back up into our faucets and on the streets. In the towns closest to the plant, it did end up happening. It will take a year for the plant to be fixed.

There was a shortage of black plastic bags because everyone needed to clean out their homes. Next was a shortage of firewood. Now there is a shortage of furnaces, hot water heaters and electric boxes. The danger of pipes breaking in the house increase as the temperatures get colder. I am on the list for these things and I hope we will not have to wait until Christmas like some people have been told.

The Long Nights With No Lights for Two Weeks

In the initial aftermath of the storm, there was a kind of numbness, followed by the shock that we, New Yorkers, were hit by such a massive and destructive storm. It was strange to know that we were making national and worldwide news, and not know what was being said about us, because we were in blackout conditions. Our only contact about what was going on was through our battery powered radio.

The cell phones worked less than sporadically because the cell towers were flooded too. Often phone calls wouldn’t go through at all and texting would come in hours after they were sent. We also had to conserve phone battery. We had no internet, no land line phone, and no television service. Ironically my kids got to see what life was like when I was younger, with no cell phones or internet. (However, I did have electricity and tv growing up.) The only outside contact was with our neighbors. Many lost several cars from the flooding. We lost only one car. By dinner we all barbecued and shared meals as we all cleared our refrigerator from the food before it spoiled.

To charge our phones, we took short local drives to survey the damage in our area, but we were very mindful of the gas we used. Disbelief that we had a storm of this magnitude, turned to shock as we tried to grasp what happened to our community. Houses suffered damage we had never seen before. Toppled trees, pulled up the entire sidewalk and the roots that were attached, and blocked the passage of roads. People’s dining rooms, and entire contents of their homes were put on the curb to be disposed of. Cars were strewn across parking lots where people parked their vehicles, believing they left them in a safe place, only to find them water logged and crashed into each other as they floated from the water levels that filled the parking lot that night.

Boats were thrown onto people’s lawns, crashed into each other, sitting on cars, and docked inappropriately into commercial buildings as we drove along the streets. Long Beach, a seaside community devastated by the storm was forced to declare martial law, protected by the National Guard, and only allowing residents in for the first week after the storm. No one could be on the street after 5 p.m. to prevent looting. They just lifted the curfew a few days ago.

Ten days after we were ravaged by Sandy, a snowstorm hit the tri-state area of NY, NJ and CT., blanketing my home with five inches of snow. With all these difficulties, and shortages, there was no shortage of the goodness of people. The Red Cross, our community, and religious organizations made sure everyone had food they needed, even knocking on our door at times to make sure we were all okay. The day of the snowstorm, the community volunteers delivered hotdogs in the snow to every door. The Red Cross provided us with MRE, meals ready to eat, that the military uses. They weren’t that bad, but more importantly it was how we sustained ourselves the day of the snowstorm. By the weekend, our religious organizations we are affiliated with, dropped off lunches and dinners. Our lifestyle became more and more primitive, with no electricity, no heat, no hot water, a gas shortage, a shortage of cleaning supplies, and conservation of water. Yet we were never for want of food or the feeling that people cared about the distress we were dealing with.

The blackout continued and although I had bought plenty of batteries, after about ten days, some of the flashlights started to break or the bulbs dimmed, even with new batteries in them. There became a shortage of flashlights and ‘D’ size batteries were not to be found anywhere. As the days went on, the men on the block grew beards, none of the women wore makeup, and we all walked around in sweat pants and several layers to keep warm. The gas shortage continued, and we could only fill up on odd/even days depending on your license plate to avoid the three to five hour wait in a gas line.

I find it hard to believe, my middle class community is declared a disaster area, as are the surrounding nearby towns.

The Gift of Caring

Friends would come by with hot chocolate, food for our pets and offers of a warm shower, to do our laundry, and a warm place to be whenever we would need it.

Sometimes we would spend a night to get warm, shower, watch television to see the news and connect to the internet. But we didn't want to leave our pets for long, so the next day we went back to our house, which became like a cold dark cave, but it was still home.

Election day approached and the high school set up generators on the weekend prior to voting, to power the voting machines in anticipation of not having electricity to the school. But politics being what it is, got electricity restored to the school the day before election day. A few people on the same grid as the school got their power back too, we were not one of them. We learned who won the election by a transistor radio, like my kids said, the way they had to do it, decades ago, before television was in everyone’s home.

Some of our school buildings had severe water damage. We lost many buses to transport the kids. Schools were scheduled to be reopen the following week, after two weeks of no school. But with almost all of the community out of power, it became concerning about how we would send our kids if our homes had no power. Our town started a protest rally to get the attention of the electric company who kept ignoring our pleas. Local politicians joined and on Sunday, November 11, at 2:11 p.m., after two weeks of no electricity, workers who came from San Francisco Power and Gas turned on our power. With great joy and tremendous gratitude to our heroes who returned us to civilization, we rejoiced at the ability to flick a switch and experience light once again. We were one of the first in our community to get the power turned on because our development has underground wiring, while most have above ground and had to wait until the next day to get their power restored. Although like many in our community we still have no heat or hot water, having lights helps us function a little better.

Teachers in the schools who have washing machines have offered to wash student's clothes.With so many of us having no washing machines or dryers, FEMA set up a laundry center. Steve from Northern California drove a tractor trailer to New York from California that is a mobile laundry center. Steve usually washes the firefighters clothes when they are battling the fires in California and Oregon. But it is a slow time of year, so he came here. I bring my clothes there because I don’t want to keep bothering my friends. Steve has been working seven days a week. The linemen to restore power sleep in trailers in the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum because the hotels are filled with the people who have no home right now. The FEMA agent who visited my neighbor, sleeps in his car in a local home depot parking lot because his hotel room is in Manhattan and he can't get here early enough to start his day due to so much traffic. The dedication of ordinary people to help us, will never make the news. But we New Yorkers, are so grateful.

Thanksgiving is different this year. We can't have it in our own home. But we are family and we are together. Sandy has wreaked havoc on our home, our lives and our finances, and created challenges we never had before. Most of my damage is not covered by insurance or FEMA, but it we will figure it out. Some people in my community lost their homes, and some in other communities lost much more. Nature is a powerful force. I never thought I would need the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or FEMA. I never thought I would need so much from others. When we get back on our feet, it motivates us that much more to give back.

Super Storm Sandy Caused Great Devastation

Long Beach, has had the beach almost completely eroded, four feet of sand landed in some people’s basement and covered the streets inches high, where in winter we would see it as snow. The boardwalk looks like an earthquake hit it. It will take years to repair the boardwalk, but the City of Long Beach hopes to repair the beach by Memorial Day. People in Long Beach can not even receive their mail at their house, for those that do have a home. They have to go ten miles away to the main post office to get their letters.

My windstorm adjuster, from the insurance company, who is handling my roof damage, came from Georgia. She told me the devastation here is greater than she has ever seen in the areas she covers from North Carolina to Florida. Katrina was more devastating in life, but there seems to be similarity in property damage. A few years ago, I went to New Orleans and toured the devastation they had there. I can’t seem to accept that may be our reality right now. But each day I hear more stories that make it sound like that.

The Twin Towers painted on a building remind us that New York as been through other difficult times.

The Twin Towers painted on a building remind us that New York as been through other difficult times.

Experiencing a Natural Disaster

With no heat or hot water, things are more difficult. Even though we are tired, and cold, and overwhelmed, we are okay. We will get through this. Like my kids said during the long blackout, our home is filled with more light and warmth, than many homes that have all the conveniences at their fingertips.

My neighbor, who is a very spiritual and empathetic woman, said to me when this first happened, that she would often read about other people in situations like ours and think, how terrible, as she reached for her warm cup of coffee, turned on the light, perused the internet, and called a friend. She said there is such a big difference to read about it, until you are the one experiencing it and have no ability to do these things.

For all of you who have dealt with a natural disaster, you understand better than most. Together we share a bond. One that takes us from devastation to determination, from challenges to change, and from hardship to hope. We didn’t ask for this, but we will be different and better for it, once we are on our feet again. I look forward to that.