October 28, 2012 was a day that changed my life forever.
As I drove down the block with my father, I watched as the leaves whipped through the air, lights flashed and a man with salt and pepper hair rushed to his car gripping his briefcase and his tie flapped in the wind. The sense of calm that I usually felt when I was close to home was completely sucked out of me.
I sat in my bedroom on a Sunday listening to the chaos outside of my window. Firemen drove up and down the blocks of my neighborhood with a megaphone and alert signals, warning everybody who lived there to evacuate the area as soon as possible.
My mother stood in the kitchen, overtaken by fear as she sipped on a glass of wine and babbled nonsense “Everyone who’s over 50 years old is going to be left just like they were when the Titanic sunk. This is it, over 50 and its all downhill.”
I was left to brave this situation on my own, as my younger sister was in a state of intense panic rushing around the house screaming that we were all going to die and that we had to get out as soon as possible. We rose early, but the water had already flooded the streets. I knew we had a limited amount of time before we would be trapped. My sister and I grabbed our belongings and headed to my grandparent’s house in a safer part of town.
My parents and some of my neighbors stuck around, possibly believing that the storm wouldn’t hit so hard. I saw photographs of people kayaking down the streets, hanging out and waiting to see what nature had in store. My father prepared the house and the yard, and they waited.
Disaster first struck when my neighbor’s house went on fire. In fact, numerous houses went on fire that week, most burned all the way down to the ground. The water had risen so high by that point that the firefighters couldn’t even get down in time to salvage their home. It was heartbreaking to see people who I would see riding down the canal on their boats during summertime, fighting for their home, their pets, and their lives.
Soon after, my parents joined the rest of the family. On Monday, we sat in my grandparents home with our big golden retriever and waited for the storm to pass. There was no electric, no cell phones, and nothing to do besides sit and wait for it all to be over. All six of us grouped together in a small space, all in panic mode, each of us losing our sanity in our own unique way.
Tuesday morning my father went back to our home. In all of the 23 years my parents have lived on the water, their house has never flood until Hurricane Sandy. My father was devastated. We got about a foot of water in our house. A lot of our things in the laundry room and garage were destroyed. The entire house smelled terrible. It was a rotted smell, like fish, dirt, gasoline, and salt water all mixed up together. I lost my baby book. My father lost all of his vinyls he had been saving from his younger years, my mother lost her elementary school memories, among other momentos.
But, we had a home, we had each other and all three of our cats managed to survive. We had made it through the storm, but we had so much more to clean up. Everyone on Long Island knows about LIPA and how long we had to wait before our gas and electric was turned back on. My parents stayed in our house with no food, no heat, no running water, no luxuries, for two weeks. My sister and I stayed at our grandparents house for a week before we couldn’t stand my controlling grandmother any longer, she went to her boyfriend’s house and I went to my best friend’s all while my parents froze in our depressing house.
It was pretty dangerous down there last November. There were cases of looters, ransacking what people had left behind when they fled. My dad was so worried that people were going to steal from us, that’s what drove him to stay in that ice cold house for weeks. It damaged his home but he wouldn’t let anyone take anything else from us. My mother didn’t cope well. My neighbors had a hard time as well, most of them spent their nights drinking the pain and shock away.
One night my neighbor cooked us chicken cutlets and Ramen noodles with electric cookware. They had a generator that kept them alive for a bit. It was nice to have real food. My family doesn’t do well in a crisis together, my mom was on the phone with her girlfriend that night, she didn’t eat a thing, I think she had a bottle of wine instead of food. My sister begged to be dropped off at her boyfriends house, and I was numb. I stayed with my parents for a while until I left with my then-boyfriend to attend a going away party, I’m not sure why I believed it was a good idea to resume life as normal, but I went. I don’t think I cracked a smile that entire night. I felt like my life was in total ruins.
It felt like a zombie apocalypse was actually happening. I left my car in a diner parking lot for a while so I could get around whenever I needed to. Police blocked off the entrance to our neighborhood, allowing people to leave but no one to come back in without a valid ID proving our home address. Once our car got down my block my cell phone stopped working completely. It was an absolute dead zone. Eerie. We had no way to charge our cell phones so we tried to survive without them but it was hard when all of my family was in different places.
After two week the lights and heat were turned back on and we began to piece our lives back together, we were one of the families lucky enough to still have our house standing. But still, it took a while before my house felt like home, and it took months before we could get everything up and running again, but we did it. We pulled through. All of New York, Long Island, New Jersey, and everywhere else and to anyone else who was affected by this natural disaster. We are all survivors.