Friday, November 2, 2012

Surviving Sandy

If  you read my previous article, "Everything is Relative", you know I came back up to New York from South Carolina to help my immediate family with Hurricane Sandy.  Sandy has also been called "Superstorm Sandy".  Well, considering all the destruction caused by Sandy, there is nothing "super" about it.   Sandy caused massive devastation along the Jersey shore, the New York City area, especially Staten Island and Far Rockaway, as well as Long Island.  I know several people who lost their homes in Long Island.  It's crushing.

As for us, we were one of the 964,000 plus homes on Long Island without power after the storm's aftermath.  We lost power Monday evening at around 5:30 PM and we were without power until last evening.  My family was fortunate that Chelle's parents in Levittown managed to keep power and we stayed with them.  How we got there, well that's the main story for this blog.

As I noted to you, my two sons and I were at the house Monday.  My wife had to work extended hours at her assisted living home for the storm starting at 8:00 AM that day.  I dropped her off and drove back to our house.  That's when the wind first started picking up, on the drive back to our house.  Once we got there, our hope was to ride out the storm on what turned to be a very long day.

At 5:30 PM, the power went out at the house.  We were lucky that it lasted that long.  But that was something I expected, especially having gone through Tropical Storm Irene the year before.  We lost power pretty quickly in that storm and we were prepared with a cooler of ice, flashlights and several games of Uno.  What I didn't expect, and I started to closely monitor, was our huge maple tree in the back started swaying.  And I am not talking about the upper branches.  I am talking about the base of the tree.

As you can tell from the photo, that's a pretty significant sized tree. I believe it's sixty years old,as old as the house, which was built in 1950. Also, you can see from the photo that it leans towards the house. When you see a sixty year old tree sway at the base and you have two young children at the house, your mind starts playing the decision game- "Do you risk riding it out or do you risk going out to your in-laws in the full brunt of the storm".  Many people didn't even have that choice during the storm and had to ride it out, some with harsh consequences.  Still, you are not supposed to drive out in a storm.  But unfortunately, this wouldn't be the first time I made that choice.

A year ago, our neighbor behind us had his tree fall down during Irene.  The tree uprooted part of the fence but also ended up leaning on the power lines.  Concerned about a power line fire, I took my two sons, went out in the storm and drove to my in-laws house (amazingly they got through Irene as well without losing power).  But the storm was at its lesser point at that time.

In the case of Sandy, it was 9:45 PM, the height of the storm, which had made landfall at about 8:00 PM in Atlantic City.  Sandy was a much larger, stronger storm than Irene and I could tell that by the wind gusts and the swaying of the maple tree, which never happened during Irene.   It was decision time again.  Once again, I called my in-laws, told them the situation and they said come on over.  I called my neighbor Dan, who I had spoken to earlier in the day, who had been also monitoring my tree in the back as well.  He said he would let me know what happened with the tree. I would find out later in the evening that a tree went through a house in Westchester, killing two young boys playing in a room.  That reinforced my decision.

So I grabbed everything I could, carefully got my two sons and our dog (which is the difference with Irene, we had no dog at that time) and got in the car.  We were lucky.  There have been a couple of stories during this storm of families having to abandon their house and heading to their car, only for the parents to be hit and killed by a falling tree. Thankfully my tree in the front curb cooperated and never lost any major branches.  I started up the car with the boys and our pug Walter in the back and headed out down a pitch black side street.

Fortunately, there were no trees or large branches down on Coolidge Street where I live.  Nor were there any on Haff, where I make the turn to head to Newbridge Road.  Chelle's parents live basically off of  Newbridge in Levittown, so it was basically a straight shot there, so we had that in our favor.   But as I started on Newbridge, I could tell the power was off in the entire block.  Up ahead at the intersection of Jerusalem, the traffic light was out.  

But before then, we had to pass the large Nassau County precinct that was at my house.  The National Guard had been called in ahead of time that morning to prepare for Sandy.  I saw all the national guard Humvees and transport trucks.  It was something out of a disaster movie and actually reminded me of the ending scene of "The Mist" (rent it, it's an underrated Stephen King novel based movie).

Well, at 9:45 PM, there were National Guard humvees right in the middle of the street.  I was concerned that they wouldn't let me pass.  But there was a SUV in front of me also driving up Newbridge.  They let us both pass towards the intersection at Jerusalem.  Turns out we were lucky.  When I got to my in-laws house later, there was an announcement by County Executive Ed Mangano (a fellow Bethpage High School Alum) that all county roads were closed.   We should have never been allowed to drive.

When I got to Jerusalem Road, we stopped, since the light was out. I made sure nothing was coming in the other directions and headed across. Then I crossed over the Southern State Parkway.  I didn't bother to see if anyone was on the Southern State.  My focus was what directly ahead in the darkness.   As I made my way north on Newbridge, I didn't bother to check if trees were down to the side.  All I cared about was if there were any major branches or trees down ahead of me.

As I made my way up Newbridge, what concerned me was what if the light at Newbridge and Hempstead Turnpike, one of the main roads on Long Island, was out.  If so, that was going to be a dangerous crossing since Hempstead Turnpike has three lanes in each direction.   Somehow, as I made my way to the intersection, the traffic light was still up.  Whew.  I waited for the green, made sure no emergency vehicles were coming east or west and I crossed.  Just a little more to go. I made it past Walmart,which was a ghost town and headed toward my in-laws.

Now Levittown is known for a lot of trees.  I knew when I made the right turn onto Flamingo Lane, I might have an issue where a tree would be down.  Fortunately, no trees blocked our path on Flamingo.  When I got to the right turn onto Blackbird Lane, where Chelle's parents live, I don't remember if I had to avoid the tree n the corner or not.  I do know the next morning, that tree on the corner of Flamingo and Blackbird was down and had blocked most of the road  It also crushed a Chevy Blazer's front windshield.  

We made it to her parents house.  But we were immediately forewarned that their neighbors had warned us that the tree next door might come down on the house.  We had nowhere else to go, so we all hunkered down together (a Chris Christie reference) and rode out the rest of the storm.  All along, I worried about our house back in North Bellmore.  It was a pretty rough next few hours.

When we woke up early the next morning, we awoke to find each of their neighbors next to our in-laws' house had their tree come down.  The house to the right of theirs, which we had been forewarned about, did come down, but not on my wife's parents' house.  Instead, half the tree went down on the neighbor's fence next to it.   The neighbor to the left had his tree narrowly miss his house.  

At around 9:00 AM Tuesday morning, I decided to make the drive back to my house in North Bellmore.  I had not heard from my neighbor Dan, so I had hopes that the house was in one piece.  By this time, Nassau County roads had re-opened.  But there were issues already. One of the few gas stations that had power and was open at the time, the Gulf on the corner of Newbridge and the side street by the firehouse, was swamped with cars.  In fact, people were blocking the intersection to get to the gas station.

As I waited at the light, I saw opposite from me a minivan that had the green light for the left turn but was waiting.  I could tell she wanted to get on that line for the gas station but didn't want to block the intersection even further.  I shook my head, which was my way of saying "Don't do it".

But the cars behind were honking.  Thus, she went out and blocked more of the intersection.   I was able to get around her.  But the geniuses behind her decided to run the light and two turned in front of me.  I can't repeat what I yelled out next, but somehow I avoided two SUVs who ran the light and a third who u-turned in front of me.   I knew immediately this is what I was going to face near any gas stations.    Sure enough, a similar issue at the gas station on Newbridge and Hempstead Turnpike.  Unreal.

After a long arduous drive which again included passing the massive National Guard presence by our police station, I made it home.  I parked the car in the driveway and hurriedly exited the car.  The front of the house seemed fine, as did the garage.  I went to the back and breathed a sigh of relief.  The tree had stayed up, despite the obvious signs that the ground around the tree had been raised slightly, with more roots showing now.  There were several large branches down, but nothing of major significance.  No branches came down on the house or the garage.  I reviewed all the windows to the house and the garage.  They were fine too. The fence, unlike from Irene, was all fine and no issues.

You are probably wondering why I am so concerned with the house.  Well, we are in contract to sell the house.  The last thing I needed was damage to the house which would delay or possibly cancel the contract. Thankfully, the house had no damage.  I relayed that information the next day to my lawyer friend and my realtor, who is another friend's dad.  

I spent the next hour cleaning up branches and leaves. Three bags worth. Eventually I would have another six bags of branches and leaves over the next couple of days.  I grabbed the cooler with the milk, juice, cheese etc, which I had left behind the night before and eventually brought that back to my wife's parents house.

Later on, I drove around a little bit and noticed a huge tree down on the corner of Haff and Harding which is right near us.  I walk around that corner every time I took Walter for a walk.  The tree fortunately missed the house by a hair, but it took down part of their PVC fence.  Other than that, there weren't many trees taken down in my neighborhood.

That wasn't the case for most of Nassau County, especially by one street by my wife's parents.  Wednesday morning, I drove Chelle to work and we drove down Carnation Road, a side street that leads to a traffic light on Newbridge Road.  In that short block of Carnation Road, there were ten trees down on both sides of the street.  Many had pulled up curbs, sidewalks and sod.   It was like a tornado came through the street.

As of the time I write this, there are still 520,000 homes on Long Island without power (LIPA customers). For those, it's at least four days without power, possibly longer. Very few gas stations are open and those that are, have absolutely crazy lines.  The North Bellmore North Merrick school district, along with my alma mater Hofstra have been closed since Monday.  North Bellmore will still be closed this upcoming Monday.

Still, that pales in comparison to the absolute devastation in the aforementioned areas of New Jersey, Far Rockaway, Staten Island and southern parts of Long Island, including Long Beach.  I have several friends in Long Beach and I spent a good part of my youth visiting friends in Long Beach.  To see the destruction on the news of that area is truly saddening.

I can also tell you from a personal standpoint that Sandy damaged several other areas that I have fond memories of over the years. Spring Lake, New Jersey, where my wife and I stayed for our anniversary a few years ago was devastated by Hurricane Irene.  The boardwalk we walked on is completely gone and the town suffered massive damage.

The Jones Beach Boardwalk, which I have walked on countless times with Chelle and the kids is severely damaged.  Ocean Parkway on Long Island, which links up Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park has been basically totaled.  I spent many times driving my 67 Barracuda Convertible that I co-own with my brother down Ocean Parkway.  The dunes that were on the right side of the road are completely gone. The New York Aquarium in Coney Island, where I have taken the family so many times, at one time in the storm was under fourteen feet of water.  Last I heard, they suffered "critical damage".

Having written about college basketball for seven years, I often hear about teams that are undergoing "rebuilding" or they talk about "a rebuilding program" after one coach takes over for another.  That's nothing compared to the rebuilding program that's needed for the areas so affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Many people lost all their belongings and loved ones.  It will take a long time for those affected to "rebuild".

It puts the term "rebuilding" into perspective.  Maybe college basketball coaches and those affiliated with college basketball and other sports as well will think twice about using that term.  I know that I will no longer use that term in my writing.  Rebuilding means so much more now.

As I was putting the finishing touches of this article, my younger son Jonathan drew a picture of our family.   It reminded me that my family was fortunate, truly fortunate to get out of this storm unscathed and that we were together. This was the smartest decision of my life, to come back to New York to ride out the storm with my family. I count my blessings that no one I love got hurt or lost their belongings.

As I have noted, many others were not so fortunate, including several people I know well.  I urge those of you who can, to donate to Hurricane Sandy charities or the Red Cross (which I have).  A lot of people here in the Northeast are hurting.  They can use your support.

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