2013-05-03 / Top Stories

Stories From Sandy

By Mary Tufts

Many people questioned my sanity weathering Sandy in a beachfront high-rise, but it turned out to be among the safest spots in Rockaway. I was not overly worried, but I prepared. Bought supplies and secured the windows while listening to the dire forecasts. I ran into a neighbor, a guy from Texas relocated by work. He wasn’t concerned about Sandy.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” he insisted. “New York doesn’t get storms like Texas, I saw Irene and that wasn’t any big deal. “

I assured him this would be a bigger deal. The barometric pressure and full moon guaranteed it. He wasn’t persuaded. I suggested he get some batteries, just in case.

I checked on an elderly neighbor. Our building was under mandatory evacuation. The elevators had been shut down, trapping all but the hardiest. She’s a Rockaway native and wasn’t leaving. She’d heard about the tidal surge though, and was concerned.

“Do you think the water will get high enough to come in my terrace door? It leaks. I don’t want my carpets to get wet.”

She lives on the 5th floor. I assured her the water was unlikely to get that high. I refrained from telling her that if it did, the building would probably collapse and wet carpets would be the least of our problems.

I am on the 7th floor facing east. The last thing I saw as the lights went out that night was the water rushing through our parking lot. Neighbors with flashlights were checking to see who was still around.

I visited a friend’s apartment facing west. From his terrace, we saw the massive fires on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, near Beach 114th Street. The full extent of the flooding was visible. Everything was submerged, and that fire looked too close for comfort. Someone commented they were glad all this water was between us and it.

The flooding was so extensive the building appeared to be standing in the ocean. There was no dry land anywhere. I never really felt in danger or frightened though - it was too unreal. It resembled a Sci -Fi movie of the week.

Returning to my apartment, I encountered an irate Mr. Texas.

“You have to see my car!” he said.

“It’s completely underwater!” Indeed it was.

The teenager down the hall heard us and came in. Mr. Texas pointed to his car, exclaiming “Look what it did to my car!”

The teenager looked. “Man, I don’t think it’s personal. Everybody’s car looks pretty *%$#&^ up.”

I could not get away from Mr.

Texas. I told him I wanted to take a shower and go to bed. The power had been off a short while so the water would still be lukewarm. By morning it would be ice cold.

“How can you even THINK about sleeping at a time like this? We should be ready in case they want to come get us out of here!” he responded.

I could not help laughing. As annoying as Mayor Bloomberg was, I realized that people like this were exactly what he was talking about. I told Mr. Texas that no one was coming to get us. There were people out there in real danger. We were just inconvenienced.

I went home to bed. Friends kept texting to make sure I was still afloat. But I did get some sleep.

When I woke in the morning, I could see the building opposite me before I even got out of bed. Still standing. A good sign.

But when I went to the window, I could see the boardwalk lying across our parking lot entrance. I trekked down the dark stairs with my flashlight. Our building was fine – a mess but no real damage. The surrounding area had not been as lucky. I’m told our block is the high point in Rockaway (geographically speaking). It was certainly the luckiest point in Rockaway that night.

I was walking through the debris on Shore Front Parkway, and ran into a young couple, Joe and Jenny, I knew from the train. They were just back from their honeymoon, and while upset by the damage, were pleased at the extra time off.

“We have a longer honeymoon!” Jenny exclaimed.

Beach 105th Street was bad. Many cars had been crushed by the boardwalk. Two cops were patrolling. As I was standing nearby, one said to the other “kind of gives new meaning to “Under the Boardwalk.” I needed that laugh.

We were without heat, hot water and electricity for thirteen days. We survived a snowy Nor’Easter, but had gas to cook. I have way too many books, and my apartment became a lending library as people rediscovered low-tech entertainment.

Bathing became a frequent topic of conversation. Everyone had a different approach. One friend spent several hours heating pots of water. She was asked how she could spend so much time on this.

“It’s not like there’s a whole lot else to do!” she replied.

There were those who jumped in and out of the cold shower as quickly as they could, washing only those parts that were absolutely essential while muttering various expletives. And of course, there were those who DIDN’T bathe for the duration. We all knew who they were!

By the end of the first week, there was a small generator with power strips set up in the middle building of our complex. It had been a struggle to keep cell phones charged, and as they were our only means of communicating, they were essential. Even when we could not make calls, texts went through and helped us stay in touch.

The charging station became a gathering place for food, supplies and information, accurate and otherwise. There were even a few Happy Hours there. I ran into the newlyweds, Joe and Jenny. I hadn’t seen them all week, and thought they’d evacuated. But they were still enjoying their honeymoon.

We joked about the “treasures” people brought home. When you have to walk a mile to find it, then haul it up the stairs, prioritizing becomes essential. For some it was food, for others cigarettes, for still others extra blankets, or pieces of the boardwalk. I realized my fondness for Diet Dr. Pepper borders on addiction. I found five warm cans in a little store in the 90’s. I hauled them all the way home, and up the stairs to enjoy.

One old guy, Tom, collected packages of underwear being distributed by relief groups. He was too far-sighted to read the sizes, so he would grab anyone passing to help. People started trying to hide from him. He must have hauled a lifetime supply up to his tenth floor apartment.

After nearly two weeks, electricity was restored by NStar from Boston. As they were leaving, people cheered from terraces. Probably the only time in recent history that a Boston “team” has gotten cheered in New York City.

Life goes on. Mr. Texas moved into Manhattan shortly after the storm to avoid the “next big one.” Joe and Jenny are expecting their first baby in July. They’re calling her Sandy.

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