Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast of the United States in the year 2012. If you make your home anywhere on the East Coast of the United States, you remember this. I live in a town on the South Shore of Long Island that was hit particularly hard by the storm. We had four feet of water in the downstairs portion of our house. All of our mechanics, water heater, heating system, electrical systems were destroyed. My wife’s parents live with us on and they lost everything.
We knew that a bad storm was coming and so we pretty much spent that entire day following the news and imagining how bad it might be. A year prior we had experienced Tropical Storm Irene which was supposed to be a storm of the century and we lost electricity for a time but it didn’t turn out to be as bad as predicted, at least in my particular area. Nevertheless, we spent the day that Sandy hit alternately staring at the television news and looking out the window as heavy rains started to fall and the wind picked up.
I think because of Irene, we were lulled into a false sense of security. At one point, I walked to the end of my block where we have a water inlet. The water was up to my knees and I took a picture of myself. I found it novel and maybe even a little bit amusing to be standing knee-deep in water on the corner of my street. I came back to the house and showed everybody the picture. My kids were ages ten, eight and two at the time. They thought the photo was cool.
We continued nervously watching the television and looking out the window when suddenly my neighbor Mark, his wife Alisha, her mom, and their three kids came running into my house. Mark said, “Don, I’ve got water in the bottom of my house.” I ran across to see what I could do to help. He and I stood at the top of the stairs and looked at the bottom floor of his house. There was nearly 5 feet of dark, brackish water in the first floor of his house. I had a thought that was completely absurd but that I’ll never forget. Mind you, Mark’s house is about 30 feet from mine. His whole family was taking shelter on the second floor of my house, 10 yards away. But as I looked at that water, I thought to myself, “Oh my goodness, poor Mark. What’s he going to do.” I won’t pretend I remember every aspect of that time with precision, but there was a moment when I thought to myself, “I guess they can all move in with us for a while until they get this fixed. We can get cots for the kids. Do we have eggs? Where are we going to put Alisha’s mom?”
I was interrupted by my wife Danielle yelling, “Don. get over here.”
I ran back over to my house just in time to see my wife and her mom running up from downstairs as a torrent of water filled the first floor of our house. In fact, she soon told me, they had been in the room where the main electrical circuit panel is located, checking on things because Mark’s wife told her what had happened in their house. The water came up from the ground so fast that they barely got out of that small room before the door slammed shut with the weight of all the water. Yes, think Titanic… Leo… Kate… absent the glamor. I refuse to exaggerate the vicissitudes of our experience with Sandy, it was lousy enough in the nonfiction version. We are all familiar with the horrible photographs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. People in New Orleans climbed to the roofs of their houses to avoid drowning. The water in my house was never over our heads, well, that’s because all of the adults are over 4 feet tall. There was a moment though. As we sat on the second floor of the house, my mother-in-law, Gale, said she’d left a device on the table in her kitchen. The table is bistro style so it was above the water line. Gale said, “It’s okay, I can replace it.” Naturally, I told her, “Don’t worry, I’ll go down and get it.”
When I waded through the water to reach the kitchen, I tripped over the floorboards that had come up due to the flood. It was a so-called “floating wood panel floor”, get it, floating. I know, I didn’t find it funny either. Anyway, for a few fleeting seconds, I was completely submerged underwater. This, I want to tell you, is a disturbing and surreal experience; to swim in your own house. Can we all agree that unless you have an indoor pool, or you live in Atlantis, you should never swim in your own house? Houses are not for swimming. I came back up for air and made my way to the kitchen table to rescue the device. But when I got back upstairs, I was soaked from head to toe, and cold. At this point, I was probably more miserable than Mark, whose flooded house I had regarded with detachment not 15 minutes earlier.
If you’ll permit me to circle back to my previous post, I now had a “hard row to hoe.” Bad things happen to other people, even to your closest friends and relatives, but somehow you allow yourself to think that they won’t happen to you. I thought my neighbor was going to have a “hard row to hoe”; turns out, we all did.
To be continued…