Why Would Anyone Live Anywhere Else?
In my short 63 years of life on this planet I have experienced, first hand, earthquakes in California, ground tremors from underground atomic bomb testing in Nevada and monsoons while serving with the United States Marine Corps.
I was caught outside in a hail storm in North Carolina that left a lump on my head akin to being struck by a golf ball hit from a tee with a one iron and a particularly wicked sandstorm that took the paint off the entire one side of a car as I was riding in a mountain pass in the Mojave Desert.
I was working on Rikers Island during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and again for the ‘92 Nor’easter when I watched employee’s cars floating up and off the dirt parking lot into the waters adjacent to LaGuardia Airport.
Although my two daughters and Grace went mainland, I stayed with our house on West 12th Road back in August of 2011 when Irene blew through at high tide.
In retrospect, although serious, all of the above events paled in comparison to what happened next.
Here are some entries from a log that I kept of events specific to our experiences on West 12th Road in Broad Channel during and after Sandy.
During the evening of October 29th, 2012, a wicked witch by the name of Sandy sent her storm surge up West 12th Road onto Cross Bay Boulevard on top of a 5.3 foot high tide. Grace and I had stayed with our house but our two daughters were secure on the mainland with friends and family.
At 7:28 p.m. we lost all power and then, in the space of but a few hours, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay had risen and, although we did not realize it at the time, transformed the vibrant 21st century town of Broad Channel into that of an early 1800’s coastal village lacking power, communication, transportation, fuel, sanitation, food, habitable living space, churches or schools.
Grace and I retreated to our second floor as the waters rose claiming a lifetime of possessions and memories stored on the first floor below us. Sharing a bottle of red wine we watched the waters of the bay claim Broad Channel against a backdrop of a darkened sky intermittently filled with the light of exploding electrical transformers and short circuited power lines.
The worst was yet to come.
As the sun rose on the morning of Tuesday, October 30th, the residents of West 12th Road slowly emerged from their homes and apartments and slowly surveyed the devastation that surrounded them.
Almost without exception, each neighbor’s face was etched with the strain of complete disbelief and shock, eyes staring blankly into the distance, bereft of emotion as if the life had been sucked out them.
Home heating fuel was everywhere having spilled from overturned oil tanks.
One hundred pound propane tanks littered the street like lost submarine torpedoes.
Parts of neighbors’ decks, wooden skiffs, barbecue grills, deck furniture, children’s bikes, sand and other assorted flotsam and jetsam were strewn about West 12th Road making it appear some Goliath had picked up our entire block, turned it upside down and shook it hard!
The realization slowly dawned on all of us that not only had we suffered incredible individual losses, we had also lost what most of us hold most dear, that which keeps us anchored to our island community – our town.
Perhaps the best thing that happened that morning was each of us stepping out among our neighbors and friends into the oil drenched debris and rubble of the storm’s aftermath. For it was only then that we came to realize that as bad as it was for us, there were neighbors and friends who were much worse off than we were.
A simple statement by a child that he or she was hungry resulted in neighbors digging through what was left of their homes to come up with a working barbecue. Other neighbors quickly inspected what perishable foods could be salvaged and shared among us. While sharing meals on our filthy streets we, almost unknowingly, took stock of what assets we had left among us.
Wednesday October 31, 2013:
Today we found neighbors making morning coffee for everyone with propane camp stoves and allowing others to charge their cell phones from their cars’ power outlets.
I made my way to Jamaica Avenue to file a flood insurance claim with my broker and I discovered that gasoline was nowhere to be found.
That afternoon, a friend drove several hours from New Jersey and delivered a gas generator and fuel for us to use until power was restored. After several hours cleaning outlets and wires, we had the generator wired into the house and light was restored!
Miraculously, I was able to get the hot water heater working and we had hot showers for ourselves and our neighbors.
Thursday November 1, 2013:
Today we started the laborious process of removing furniture, appliances and other bulk items that had been ruined by the water and ripping out wet drywall and insulation.
As generators ran empty, family and friends visited us from miles away delivering much needed fuel. Grace’s brother delivered 15 gallons of gasoline from Danbury, Connecticut and did so every three days afterwards!
I managed to dry out our propane gas regulator and jerry rig the stove top to produce flame and provide a minimum of heat in our flood damaged kitchen.
Then, to add insult to injury, we were struck by a nor’easter which left some two inches of snow and ice on the street and generally made a miserable situation almost unbearable.
We spent that evening around our stove among friends and neighbors sharing stories and tears but always I ending with the question “What can we do tomorrow to make this better?”
As the days went by, only I and a handful of West 12th Road residents stayed on West 12th Road but many of our neighbors found that they could not remain in their storm ravaged homes and had to move away.
A special thanks to Donna and Mary Anne for their gift of their private stock of Irish whiskey before they left for “displaced land.” Be assured it was put to good use!
I was keeping “farm hours” during this time. I was up and about working cleaning up and liberally bleaching anything that didn’t move in the house at dawn and I crawled into bed on the second floor with my dog (for heat) at sunset.
Tuesday November 6, 2013:
A Con Ed worker came to my door this morning and all I could think was that power was about to be restored. Alas, that was not to be. The Con Ed worker advised me that my outside meter was “booted” as it had been water damaged and that I would need to do a “self- certification” with a licensed electrician to get it “un-booted.”
Another friend dropped off a commercial gas heater which I immediately hooked up to a propane tank and starting drying out my bare wet walls and floors - not to mention providing a modicum of most welcome heat!
By now Sanitation was out in force but as I live at the end of West 12th Road, unfortunately it would be days before they could deal with the tons of refuse that had to be removed before they could reach those houses, like mine, at the bay end of the block.
Thursday November 8, 2013:
The Department of Buildings visited me today and after inspecting the interior and exterior of our residence, they “green” tagged our house attesting that the foundation and structure had not been compromised.
It is impossible to wash and dry clothes without traveling to an open laundromat but the gas situation won’t allow it.
Right now I think I smell worse than my dog. In fact I know I do. The dog won’t sleep in my bed anymore.
Friday November 9, 2013:
I passed through Howard Beach today and observed a myriad of National Guard vehicles parked and guardsmen just standing around doing nothing.
When I asked one what was going on he replied, “We all want to do something, help everyone but our orders are to simply stand by!”
Privately contracted sanitation workers with Bob- Cats are noisily working through the overnight hours trying to remove the still huge amount of debris from West 12th Road. It’s a very loud but very reassuring noise.
Tuesday November 13, 2013:
I found three strangers in a van attempting to burglarize a neighbor’s abandoned house shortly after 10 p.m.
After a short conversation with these gentlemen, I convinced them to depart the area in lieu of me checking to see if my shotgun still worked.
Wednesday November 14, 2013:
After spending $1,200 for a private licensed electrician to inspect and repair our main line and meter box, Con Ed restored power to the house! I finally understood the definition of “self-certification” - it means I pay for it!
Saturday November 17, 2013:
President Obama, Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg flew over Broad Channel on their way to somewhere other than Broad Channel. They didn’t even drop a courtesy PBJ sandwich for any of us! Suffice it to say I did not wave!
The National Guard has a gasoline truck in town for the residents. Hauling three 5 gallon cans of gas from the 17th Road Park back to the end of West 12th Road could be the next physical fitness rage: “The Sandy Gas Can Workout!”
Just found out that Ruffle Bar is open with candlelight and propane heat.
I stopped in for a quick (or perhaps not so quick) drink (OK, drinks...) and found out everyone else smelled just as bad as I did!
Wednesday November 21, 2013:
Gas shortage ends....first stop any open laundromat! I might even throw the dog in for a quick wash and dry!
My specific date entries for the log ended here as I was too consumed with the myriad tasks at hand in attempting to get our house back into a semblance of habitability.
As weeks turned into months I and everyone else had to do what we could to restore our homes while dealing with the complexities of FEMA, the impersonal, slow to react and less than caring attitudes of our flood insurance companies and the reluctance on the part of our banks to disperse such funds when they finally received the checks.
Thanksgiving and Christmas 2012 were celebrated as best we could with turkey dinners at the American Legion, Santa Claus and toys for children at the VFW - perhaps more memorable than those holidays past, as each of us had the opportunity to realize just how much we had to be thankful for and encouraged with the knowledge that we were all pulling together to restore our community!
Slowly but surely, the house started to come back together - new oil tank and boiler, insulation, sheetrock, taping, wiring, floors, painting, new appliances, cabinets, new furniture, etc.
As time passed, it all started to appear to be a very surreal dream - on second thought, make that nightmare!
It is now one year since that wicked witch Sandy visited our fair town and as terrible as that time was, my most significant memories are those of my wife, Grace, my two daughters, Amy and Victoria, our terrific neighbors - Sophia and Lenny, Donna and Mary Anne, Frank and Gwen, Gary, Rob and Trish, Matt, Kit and Frank, Mike and Sue and Janet and Mike, and many others.
Together we shared laughter, tears, frustration, elation, sorrow, hope, food, drink, showers, towels, soap, clothes, tools and much more.
But most importantly, together we endured this nightmare and came away from this experience with a new sense of hope and rebirth.
Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?
Peter Mahon, a retired Warden from the N.Y.C. Department of Correction with over 30 years of service, hails from Broad Channel where he has resided for almost 20 years with his wife, Grace, and two daughters, Amy and Victoria