There were rumors floating around that Dec. 21, 2012 was going to be the end of the world as we know it. Well, the date was wrong and the location was isolated to the New Jersey and New York and Connecticut shore communities. On Oct. 29, 2012, I thought the world was coming to an end.
Super Storm Sandy slammed into the Jersey shore at approximately 80 miles per hour. New York became the target of a huge storm surge from the backside during a full moon high tide, unlike anything New Yorkers had ever experienced. New York City, the city that never sleeps, had a surge wash over lower Manhattan knocking out all power and public transportation, and flooding all of the tunnels and subways.
Backup generators were washed away in the city hospitals, requiring crews to carry out newborns, aging patients and post-surgical patients to uptown facilities. Hospital floors were flooded, equipment destroyed and walls contaminated. This just wasn’t any water, this was salt water that corroded every piece of metal it touched and contained oil, gas, raw sewage and everything that came into the water’s path.
NYC Boroughs Devastated
One of the boroughs of New York City, Staten Island was devastated, overrun with chest-high water, washing away homes, businesses and everything else in sight. Portions of Queens were devastated. It has a small, old community called Breezy Point where over 100 homes burned to the ground. Parts of Brooklyn were devastated and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were homeless and cold and many others died or were injured.
Having been born and raised in Pittsburgh, with its three rivers, it was a treat to live near the ocean. I live on the south shore of Long Island about a 45-minute train ride east from Manhattan. It is a beautiful, family-oriented community with the southern-most portion lying along the Great South Bay that separates the barrier islands from the Atlantic Ocean. The town is called Massapequa, a good old Indian name, which not only has beaches but also canals – like they have in Venice, Italy – running through many streets from the bay. There also are a lot of large lakes that house nice size carp, swans and other water birds.
These beautiful water locations also became the destructive forces that brought my beautiful town to its knees. Massapequa was blessed with gorgeous, large and sprawling, 300-year-old trees that offered natural shade and added to the beauty of the area. It all became part of the largest and most destructive storm in New York history.
I was asked to evacuate before the storm hit during the day on Oct. 29th. It was impossible for me to evacuate, as my daughter, her husband and their three kids were living with me since they relocated to New York in May. Also, there’s the love of my life – Rooney – a 93 lb. yellow lab who hotel clerks don’t welcome with open arms adding to the difficulty of evacuating. So we stayed. I had gone through Hurricane Gloria in 1985 with little damage and Tropical Storm Irene last year with no damage so I felt fairly safe.
What a mistake! Before high tide at 8:30 p.m., the wind was howling with gusts 80 to 100 miles per hour but the water was starting to surround the house. Nassau County Police closed all roads; no one was permitted in or out. By 9 p.m., the house was completely surrounded by water. There was no power and it was scary.
Armed with flashlights, we watched the water coming higher and higher until it flooded into my garage,, soaking the water heater and oil burner. In the back, in place of the lawn, I had a 7-foot-deep pond that came to the top of my deck. Forty-foot pine trees were toppled and my fence was completed destroyed as was my kids’ trampoline. You could see transformers burning everywhere and the smell was rancid. Seventy-two percent of all Long Island Power Authority customers were in the dark late Monday, and all roads in Nassau County were deemed impassable and shut down. They advised that no residents should leave their homes, and no roads were considered safe.
More than 791,000 homes were without power on Long Island as of 11:45 p.m., according to the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and they warned residents to be prepared to be without power for at least 7 to 10 days, according to the utility’s website. As it turned out, I was without power for 3 weeks.
You could hear sirens constantly in the distance but nothing close to my neighborhood because the water was just too deep for them to drive through. Consequently, seven houses burned to the ground, two collapsed. By 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 30, the storm was gone but it left unbelievable destruction in its wake. I had a large sinkhole in the front of my house, which could not be seen until the waters receded.
The neighbors that stayed congregated with their flashlights in the street and we noticed the waters were not going into our storm sewers because the leaves were clogging them. We all went back to what remained of our houses to find shovels, brooms, anything we could use to move the leaves out of the drains and the water then began draining faster.
The police came by to check on us and gave us the “lowdown” on the rest of the neighborhood. They told us stories of neighbors saving neighbors, rescuing pets and generally coming together like we do in disasters. This was a disaster and still is. The sewage facility went down in the flood and raw sewage still is coming into communities. Cleanup needed to be treated differently based on the presence of e coli. The volunteers conducting rescue and recovery never anticipated the sewage issues. Bleach, a lot of bleach was necessary.
Schools were comprised; some were destroyed. We had no gasoline for our cars, because there was no power. Millions were affected by the gas shortage, which lasted 2 weeks until we went to rationing. Supermarkets had no power and were damaged by the storm. There was no way to get food in or out, so if they had generators, the shelves were bare.
After staying in the house for a week after the storm, the temperature in the house was 41 degrees. My daughter and her family moved out after the third day with no power, but Rooney and I stayed. When I realized I was developing symptoms of hypothermia, I knew it was time to leave.
The end of the story is not over. My house is sinking! I have 12 steel columns in the crawlspace that hold up the house. The cement footings were washed away and the steel is rusting. The water compromised the walls and the insulation in the garage and crawlspace. I have two pillars in the garage that hold up the headers for the second floor that have twisted. Now the rooms on the second floor are uneven, the floors soft and sagging, and the house has not been restored. My pipes didn’t burst, but between the water and the cold temperatures, my ceilings, walls and floors cracked. My wooden kitchen cabinets are cracking and my room doorjambs and doors no longer match.
All of the trees, lawn and shrubbery are gone. The salt water kills everything. The paint on my front porch was eaten away, my air conditioner condensers are corroded and seized. The back deck footings are comprised and the deck is condemned.
I do have separate flood insurance and homeowners insurance but the process to collect any monies and do the restoration and repairs that are necessary is a long time period. FEMA has been to the house at least four times, from the flood insurance through the disaster relief staff. My homeowners insurance covered the wind but the flood, which caused the majority of the damage, is really a long process with no end in sight.
The footprint of Long Island has been dramatically altered. The way rescuers are doing their jobs had to be restructured based on the contamination.
Between the safety and environmental factors, and the numbers of people impacted, the recovery is very expensive and ongoing. FEMA has recovery trailers set up in all of the neighborhoods, the Red Cross has feeding and warming trailers set up, but there are plenty of taxpaying Americans who are homeless and cold.
Remember, this was the real “perfect” storm, a combination of hurricane, 10-15 foot storm surge, nor’easter, wind, high tide waters, snow and falling temperatures.
If you have the capacity to donate to a fund that assists Long Islanders please do. Thousands of people still need help, and homes, businesses and schools need rebuilding and we will do it. We are continuing to find housing for people, but they need cars and they need to get their lives back and we need to figure out how to avoid this massive destruction caused by a catastrophic weather event.
About the author: Cynthia Roth, CEO founded Ergonomic Technologies Corp. in 1993. Cynthia was recently elected Chair of the ASSE Foundation and has lectured at hundreds of companies and conferences on ergonomics.