I last left you at around 4:30 on October 29th as the waters from the ocean three and a half blocks away started coming up the bay block I live on. Knowing high tide was around 9 p.m. this was not a good sign. The earlier morning tide had the waters over the curb and lapping at my garage door where I had placed two rows, of what turned out to be, paltry, 12 bright yellow sand bags we had laboriously filled the day before.
Seeing a neighbor, who in the morning had said we would be on our porches toasting bloody marys during the storm, leave in a hurry around 4 p.m. certainly didn’t give me confidence. I went down to a basement so full of stuff there was almost no path to walk to see what I could get off the floor. I raised a few things – putting tools on a table -- but every ounce of space seemed filled and I gave up fairly quickly. Oh, I did take my deceased aunt’s ratty mink coat and stole out of the closet and hung them from the rafters. (The next morning they would look like soggy, dead rats.) Then I went up to the ground level garage/laundry room/bathroom/den, an area which was used mostly for storage. Again, barely space to move. I grabbed an expensive video camera but in the rush forgot the audio equipment.
So what can one add at this point about the next ten hours that everyone in Rockaway experienced as some of the seminal moments of their lives? I don’t remember which came first, the beginning of about 10 blackouts – return to power, blackout, etc. or the sound of the water coming in. We ran downstairs to the garage that is at the entrance to our house (we have a split level) and saw the water coming in around the sand bags. We grabbed some towels – sure, go ahead, laugh. Then we heard the water coming into the den through the back door, which is about a foot below ground level. And I mean gushing. My wife had placed barriers against the basement door to keep the water out of the den – I don’t know what we were thinking about where water would come from. I guess I had a vision of 3 or 4 feet of water seeping in my basement.
Who thought the first entry into the living area would be through the ground level living space? As the water gushed into the den and the power went out for good, my wife suggested I get the ice chest and the bags of ice I had put in the small freezer. Good thinking on her part as we ended up spending 3 three weeks eating out of that ice chest. I saw the ice chest floating by, along with a pair of boots which I grabbed and tossed upstairs. There was no time to grab much else. I ran back upstairs and dried off. Did I shut the power off in the control panel in the garage? Too late.
I can’t believe how little idea we had about all this. Of course with the amount of water pressing against it, the door wouldn’t budge (though in the morning I would find it pushed wide open from the push of all the water in the basement rushing out into the den). So I was locked out of my basement --- one of the lucky breaks of the night given what happened to so many people. The water was too high to get the basement door open. Best that I didn’t see it or even worse, given what happened to others, venture down there to see what else I could have saved – the chop saw or the mink coat? Being locked out was one of many lucky happenstances for us that night.
This was about 6:30 p.m..
We knew we had to get to high tide at 9 p.m. and at least we had some portable radios working to give us news. The earlier morning high tide where we saw the water totally recede back to the ocean gave me some confidence we could ride this out. Even if the water reached our main living area, about 5 feet high, we could always get to the bedrooms another 5 feet up. (One of the defining issue for people in terms of post storm home livability was whether water got to this level and that turned out to vary by inches).
We had three locations to watch the water come up from– front window, back window and the door to the den where we could see it rise one step at a time. And up it came from all three directions. I looked in wonder as the waters rose, led by the slimy looking foam. When it reached deck height with chairs floating the house was standing in the middle of the ocean, like watching a monsoon movie taking place in south Asia. When water reached above the hood level of the car parked in the driveway across the street I knew both of our cars were probably cooked.
All sorts of stuff was floating. Benches – heavy benches – beams, heavy pots with plants, garbage cans, sections of fence. Our big patio bench with a heavy pot on it floated 20 feet away and landed upright to a perfectly located section of the garden – as if the ocean were a landscape architect. By 8 p.m. the water was two steps away from our main floor and we started moving things upstairs and placing towels by the 3 doors where we expected the water to come from. But we knew we could ride this out and did not think our lives were threatened. Until I smelled the smoke. (To be continued ...)
I'm a happy woman. I'm a happy woman, tra-la, tra-la, tra-la. I heard this song wafting down to the basement through the fumes of the mold spray. Ahhh, such joy from my wife after 41 years of marriage. Could it be the effects of the raw ginseng roots I've been munching on? Alas, no. My wife had just ordered a replacement washer/ dryer for the one month old ones we lost in Sandy and was told they were finally in stock and would be delivered this week. I'm a happy man. I'm a happy man, tra-la, tra-la, tra-la.
No more traipsing to Brooklyn to sit in Laundromats or going begging at the homes of friends. And being able to take hot yoga without having the wet clothes tossed outside on the deck by you know who. Tra-la.