Last week, I began telling the story of Sheila and Dean, who lived on the water in Massapequa, and their harrowing experience during Superstorm Sandy five years ago. Hunkered down on the second-floor bedroom on East Shore Road with their Labrador dog Jake, the storm was raging outside their picture window, where they had gazed at many beautiful sunrises since buying the house a few months before. Mother nature was in full fury and the sound of the wind was freighting.
Although their next-door neighbors fled before the storm hit, the wind was shaking the 25-foot boat they left behind, which was sitting unsecured on a lift out of the water. The boat was struggling against the roaring winds, but was no match for Sandy’s intensity, which achieved cyclone status and was now packing hurricane-force winds.
Tossing the loose boat like a toy off the lift, they watched in horror as it rode the rising tide closer and closer to their house, finally nestling against their patio doors. But the wind was manufacturing waves on the normally calm bay and the force of the water rammed the boat through Sheila and Dean’s fragile patio doors like a bull in a China shop, taking out the kitchen wall directly below them.
With the structure brutally damaged, they fled down the stairs as the savagery of the storm took up residence inside their exposed living room, like an unwanted house guest. With no barrier between the raging bay waters and their living room, there was more than a foot of water inside now and it was rising rapidly.
Grabbing Jake and heading out the front door, they were engulfed by cold, chest-deep water, flowing through the street like river rapids. Frightened and unsure what to do next, they attempted to traverse the furious current, only to find that Jake was having no part of it and was heading back to the house. Snatching the terrified dog, they fought against rushing water, forcing their way across the street to a neighbor’s house, only to find no one home. The wind was roaring, the rain was relentless and there was no turning back.
Exhausted from the physical and mental anguish, they trekked to another house, hoping to seek shelter. Pounding on the stranger’s door, they hoped someone would respond and take pity on them. When the startled strangers answered the door and reluctantly let them in, the water inside their house was already past the two-foot mark.
Outside, the unrelenting wind continued to push the water down the street as East Shore Road ceased to exist. Now, only water covered the distance between the houses on opposite sides of the street. There was an eerie hum as the wind droned on, drowning out the silence of this awful night. There was no power, no communications and apparently, no escape. Perched atop the living room couches, what little hope they clung to was starting to wane as the water began to lap at their feet.
When day broke, the sun came out and the wind was gone, but East Shore Road had vanished. Still wet and cold, Sheila and Dean waded across the newly formed river to survey the damage to their home, but it was a total loss. A boat was wedged halfway into their kitchen and was holding up the rest of the house. Carefully, they collected a few things and headed north, targeting Merrick Road and higher ground.
Slogging through the murky water like refugees in a zombie-like trance, they observed onlookers stopping to take pictures of the devastation. But no one was offering to help the wet strangers and their dog as they continued their quest for dry land.
Sometime after 11 a.m., the weary travelers arrived at our door, exhausted and forlorn. Although we had no power, we certainly had a shower, food and dry clothes to offer them. Unable to communicate with them over these harrowing hours, just seeing them safe was a relief.
Eventually they rebuilt their house on East Shore Road, but never returned. They wouldn’t chance a possible repeat of the pain and horror they endured. The wedding still took place right after Thanksgiving and they eventually settled into a new house in Massapequa Park, way north of the LIRR tracks and the soggy memory of East Shore Road.
With the recent spate of hurricanes that have battered island coastlines, we worry that one of them will be heading our way again. Many have generators now to keep the electricity running and folks down on the water have been raising their houses off the ground to avoid flooding.
Nobody wants to go through that again, but, it’s not up to us, is it?