Hurricane Sandy made landfall around 8pm on Monday October 29, 2012. It headed straight into the center of New Jersey as a level one hurricane but with other conditions including a full moon and stronger storm surges it had a wide effect that devastated our shore line community of Long Beach, NY. My family and I stayed at home since we thought that this storm would not be any worse than Hurricane Irene last year. Many of our neighbors, most of whom had lived in the community for a while, believed that this storm would have similar effects to last year’s storm. Up till 6:30pm some our neighbors reassured us of this although others, including myself, began having second thoughts. By 7:30pm many of us recognized that this storm was going to be far more devastating. One neighbor’s (who was very optimistic up till quarter to 8pm) face changed into a dreadful awareness as he exclaimed “I have never seen this happen before.”
At that time I went out to the corner because I could see the excitement of other neighbors and saw that the Ocean had entered the west end of Long Beach two blocks from our house. At first I wasn’t worried because I recalled how this happened last year. However, as the waters started going past me I became aware of one unusual fact. This occurred last year at the height of the storm surge. This time, we were not even close to that. I came in just in time to see the Ocean and the Bay meet on our street. When the waters rose past the curb we started to move our belongings from the first floor to our bedrooms on the second floor. We attempted to take the kids to our neighbor’s house whose property was more elevated but the water moved so quickly that we could not make it without seeing the potential danger of being swept away by current. So the family huddled upstairs while I waited for the worst downstairs. The waters came up to the deck which was one step away from entering the first floor. I placed towels along the doors in a last ditch effort. There I stayed monitoring the progress of the water as it engulfed all our cars; the salt water triggered the electrical components of the car (which in my case opened the windows of the cars thus making the damage that much worst). A neighbor called for help regarding her elderly mother but we could not get over there.
It was then that I found myself in prayer. Looking out the window I offered my petitions that God spare the destruction to my home even as I affirmed that “thy will be done.” For a half an hour I waited and it appeared to that the waters were beginning to recede. I waited till I could validate this and then told my family the good news. I went out and looked around from my deck. After awhile, with the waters stagnant, I was overcome with exhaustion and crashed in bed.
A strong smell of electrical fire woke me up early in the morning. I got out and checked the house and surrounding houses to see if there was any danger. I then realized that the waters had receded. Going out I saw three cars completely burned. I also saw first responders including Fire department and police. I directed them to the elderly lady’s house and they were able to take care of her needs. At that point many of us began to congregate and assess our situation. For the most part many of us were just happy with the fact that we survived. We knew that we sustained damage but that would not yet overwhelm us on the morning after. Later during the day some of us would examine the surrounding neighborhood which had received greater damage, and then we would look at the ocean front and the once famous Long Beach boardwalk. We were becoming aware of the devastation that our community experienced.
In the days to come many of us would begin to assess the damage and become overwhelmed by the loss we had suffered. For some of us the loss was material, but for others the loss included their livelihood and others simply lost everything. It would take a couple of days for me to fully accept that we no longer had any car and that our boiler shed and crawl space was hopelessly wrecked (thus leaving us with mold and no floor insulation). For at least a full week and a half we would have to live with no power, heat or hot water. We were one block away from houses that had no access to potable water, so again we were blessed. Yet for many of my neighbors the situation became one where they did not know how to start repairing the damage. The first step of course was to clean up the garbage and throw away the debris. As soon as I was able to get to the office I was able to place a claim on all the damages we had and start that part of the process. We stayed for 6 days but with the weather getting colder the family would finally evacuate to my in-laws where there was power, heat and hot water.
A neighbor would comment “I am not sure the community can ever get back to normalcy” but most of us just took it day by day, recognizing that at some point this community will once again stand tall. Giving us a sense of hope was the fact that we all worked together to help each other. Neighbors would come back from wherever they were staying and drop off essentials like ice, water and bagels (a long island essential). The National Guard, state police and FEMA began to respond with food and water distributions. The city and county would soon begin to clear the larger debris.
Although our Church was also without power and sustained some damage we were able to have at least one Mass on Saturday and Sunday. Many came for a sense of normalcy, others came for support. Our Pastor would not only supply us with our spiritual needs but took the opportunity to have the community announce the services, distributions and community meetings that the Church and community would be providing. However, the feelings we all had ran the gamut. We would be strengthened and supported by each other but sometimes we would look like zombies as we would feel overwhelmed with our situation. Many of us would ask questions with reference to what this reality (in light of two hurricane disaster two years in a row) means for the future of our community. Is this weather pattern a cyclical expectation that we will simply have to live with? Is this community no longer ecologically sustainable?
This community will rise again and as a people of faith we will experience the hope and joy of having developed a stronger sense of community that struggled together in the face of this disaster. For now we are all taking it one step at a time and journeying with each other in addressing our own needs and frustrations. At one point I let a neighbor who was an avid churchgoer know the time for the weekend Catholic Mass. Her response was “I am angry with God right now” (she had fervently prayed the week before for God to spare us this devastation). A moment later she recanted what she said but I told her that she need not take back her anger. “Sometimes,” I told her, “its okay to be angry with God.”