Surviving Sandy in the South Shore of Staten Island

November 1, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |


A reader of Revolution sent the following:

Where do I begin?  How about never expecting Hurricane Sandy to create such devastation, destruction and dismay to the New York/Tri-State area.  I write this today to remember and to share my single experience during the worst storm in my life.

In 1993, when the “perfect storm” hit Long Island and Connecticut, I was on a boat that was tied to a dock in Long Island Bay.  My kids were little then, and we were on a 35 ft. power boat enjoying our weekend.  It was too late for us to head home, so we decided to ride it out.  Even though we were there, and boats did fly over us, it wasn’t all that bad.  I’ve also survived major blizzards and blackouts from the 60’s to the 70’s.  So I really didn’t give the prediction from our pretty weather people much thought. We stocked up on water, batteries and pet food.  I couldn’t believe that starting Wednesday, five days before the hurricane was supposed to hit, every single news broadcast was screaming about the “SUPER STORM” heading our way. And watching Bloomberg telling people they should leave or else, really annoyed me.  Of course with Ray Kelly at his side, they had planned to shut down power in public housing, as well as shutting down elevator service.  I live in what they determine to be “Zone A”, and are directly in a flood area.  I actually grew up in this neighborhood, and rode inner tubes down the gutters during thunderstorms.

Hurricane Sandy - Boat in houses on Staten IslandHurricane Sandy - boat in houses on Staten Island in the aftermath of the storm. Photo: Special to Revolution

This is a very white middle-class neighborhood about less than a ¼ mile from the beach.  I often wondered if Staten Island would sink if there was some kind of super storm, but laughed it off.  Going through the weekend, the warnings and drama on television increased exponentially.  By Sunday plans of shutting down bus and subway service, rail service and bridges were announced.  A pre-emptive strike by government to keep people inside, as well as immediately declaring the tri-state a federal disaster area by President Obama came by Monday. 

Bloomberg started declaring that anyone who didn’t evacuate was “selfish” and “putting first responders in harm’s way.”  I myself felt that was totally uncalled for, but everything he says and does is uncalled for.  In the meantime people couldn’t get to work, and schools were closed.  So in order to save the “infrastructure” and the equipment involved, it was moved to a “safe area”.  No mention of Rikers Island, or the tombs evacuation, and absolutely no questions from the “concerned” media about the people being kept in the prison system there.  I still don’t know what happened to them.

By Monday the winds started blowing my windows, and deck.  We thought we were ready.  I watched as trees started coming up by the roots one at a time in my neighborhood, including a 10 year old pear tree which landed on my back fence.  By 3:00 pm Monday power went out, which was expected.  Just as we were watching a news story on TV about the “Great Kills Marina” a few blocks away from my home, had flooded and boats were lifted out of the water and headed for local area restaurants and homes.  A few hours later the power came back on, and more stories of flooding were on the news.  But now Chris Christie and Cuomo, along with Bloomberg, looked scared shitless.  As prepared as they thought they were, the storm caught them off guard. Each government official had their own spin on this. 

All the while I am thinking to myself the only reaction and response these people in control had was to literally declare some sort of martial law.  Bloomberg literally had people locked up in whatever home they had, Christie was demanding people evacuate, and the only reasonable voice was the Governor of Connecticut who said that “people need to use their best judgment.”  Monday night I listened to the wind blowing, which was actually quite soothing.  The lights were out now permanently, trees were downed, and most people were inside.  Except for a bunch of kids playing football.  As I lay in bed all I could hear was the wind, which almost sounded like the ocean.  For all I know it may have been the sound of the ocean not too far away.  The air was pleasantly fresh, for a change, and I thought, this isn’t so bad.  I was lucky.  I had a nice bed, warm blankets, and food.  I also had hot water and a gas stove that worked.  I thought about the people in Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean who suffer through this every year, and have nothing to begin with.  I do some volunteer work in Haiti, and have seen firsthand how living in a tarp tent in a hurricane will humble someone like me, but is the norm for them.

During the night the winds picked up, and hail started hitting.  I was more worried about my 90 year old mom who lives ten houses around the corner from me.  Tuesday morning came, and as I walked outside, I couldn’t believe what a mess it was.  Everyone was out in the streets, looking pretty stunned, waiting to see emergency vehicles.  What I noticed is that the entire night into the morning, I did not hear one emergency vehicle, nor did I see one.  In fact, I wasn’t alone.  Everyone was talking about it. 

So for five days before this storm, all we saw were political figures, government officials and media standing up and shouting orders; showing us slideshows and presentations on how the storm was going to hit us, what zones were the worst, what they were going to do about it, and how we needed to listen to what they were telling us to do or else.  For five days before the storm, people were ransacking the local supermarkets, stocking up on whatever they wanted.  Here in Staten Island I saw carts filled with cookies, cereal and soda.  But now, after the storm hit, those same politicians, government officials and media folks were at a loss.  Every one of them kept saying they never saw anything like this; Cuomo made reference to his conversation with Obama saying that “we have a 100 year storm every two years now, how do we handle it.”  He meant, “how do we handle the people.”

Standing out in my street, I didn’t see one “emergency responder”.  Not one vehicle or cop.  A friend came by and said that the National Guard was all along the water front street of Hylan Boulevard, protecting the homes there.  Turns out those same yachts and boats that were docked in the most prestigious marina where there are million dollar boats, came loose and floated two blocks into all the homes in the area.  It’s sad that the waters had risen so high to come up one-half mile into homes, and we hoped no one was hurt, but the message was sent clearly that the National Guard was not there to help us, they were there to protect property.  There were no emergency evacuations happening.  In fact all along the south shore, people were stranded in their homes, some of them washed away, calling for help.  Help did not come. 

After people had been told to listen to their government officials, they were now left to fend for themselves.  Bloomberg and the rest of the talking heads, were on the airwaves saying they were told to evacuate, and now people had to wait.  Statements started coming out how power wouldn’t be turned on for at least five to seven days, and that the main focus was to get Wall Street, which was flooded, up and running first. 

Tuesday wasn’t too bad, but people looked stunned.  I spent time at my mom’s house, and found it was getting very cold.  She sat with two coats and her home is all electric, so she had no gas at all. Her neighbors were outside with photos and stories of the flooding and electrical wiring downed.  But still no sign of ANY help.  I decided I would venture out in my car to find gasoline, since I was on empty.  I couldn’t believe how people were reacting.  Now I am a “post-apocalyptic zombie movie” fan, and always laugh at people who go “rogue”, until I got in my car and started looking for gas.  Street lights were out, trees were in the middle of the road, and houses were destroyed.  Yet there they were, hundreds of cars, mostly SUV’s, with maniacal drivers behind the wheel.  People were pale, eyes bulging and hair standing on end.  I am not kidding.  I found a CVS that was open, and people were pushing and shoving just to get batteries and water.  Angry faces, angry body language, and loud voices.  I thought to myself, now I understand where they get the scripts for these movies!  I kept looking for the walking dead behind my shoulder.

No one knew what to do with themselves except shop.  People on line had candy, boxed cake mix, soda, and other such items.  Everyone was lost and asking where all the help was. Here they were listening to those in charge telling them what to do, and now dead silence.  Staten Island, it turns out, was one of the hardest hit.  Families lost lives, homes and businesses. 

I left the store and went to a gas station.  Again, cars headed in every entrance and exit in different directions trying to get to the pump first.  Yelling out the windows at each other, and looking like live zombies themselves.  I immediately went home.  There was no help coming, and no one wanted to help.

There’s something to say about how some communities pull together, but from what I saw after this devastation, that’s a rarity.  You may see it on the news, but they aren’t going to show you the overwhelming amount of times people will run you down first, and ask questions later.  I started to examine why this was happening here.  First of all, living in middle class suburbia, people basically don’t spend time socializing unless you have small kids. There is really no sense of community.  We don’t live in buildings where you see your neighbors several times a day, like in public housing, or in the urban areas.  People here are basically out for themselves. 

By Wednesday, now two days without power, the frustration was evident everywhere.  No help came at all, but news about the opening of the stock exchange was on the radio airwaves.  I stayed at my mom’s house since now it was really pretty cold for her at night.  I went from thinking that we could ride this out, to going into full emergency mode.  I had no cell service on Monday and Tuesday, and thought it would return, also hoping power would return.  But it hadn’t and it was getting colder.  People in the streets were talking about how this was more than a hurricane.  A tsunami or tidal wave was more like it.  Many felt now that we weren’t being told the entire story, and still no help came.  Most feel helpless because in their minds they are depending upon those same officials that said they were in control before the storm, but were now pretty much invisible except for press conferences.

It is amazing how you go from taking your TV, internet, cell phones, refrigerators and cars for granted, somewhere in the back of your mind understanding that you shouldn’t really depend upon all these comforts, to now taking it hour by hour, only thinking about how you can keep warm, how you will eat, and when dusk comes, making sure you have candles lit, and enough flashlights.  You literally start operating in emergency mode.  I felt myself on Wednesday at some point switching over into high gear.  Thinking that if we had to go through this for 5 more days, we needed food, and heat.  I planned with my husband to head out to Philadelphia to find batteries and a generator on Thursday, so we could at least survive.  We could at least keep my mom warm, and my dogs and cats, who were already spooked.  I wasn’t even thinking about watching TV or going online at that point.  It was shear survival instincts kicking in.

All I could think about was Haiti, and New Orleans.  How in NOLA Blackwater mercenaries started shooting people.  How people in Haiti start burning tires out of frustration. Would that happen here?   What would be the new norm.  Yes, we now have storms of the century every 2 years, or sooner.  And those in control are “altering” their grand plans for the rest of us.  What does that mean?

It certainly doesn’t mean they are coming to help immediately.  It means they will enforce martial law sooner, more fiercely and let us ALL fend for ourselves, while they keep “order.”   Of course people feel helpless, angry and afraid.  We are not in control.  We are used to the creature comforts, but we don’t have our hands on the button that control it.  Those who stand on the podiums do, and they will control it, the military and us in the process.  Early Thursday morning, while we were sleeping, all the lights and appliances flipped on.  I looked up and realized how much energy I was actually using, that was my first thought.  I walked around my house shutting off lights, televisions, computers, and washing machine.  It scared me into thinking how dependent I was on these things, and how I just took it for granted, or worse, ignored it. 

I was happy to have heat again, and so was my mom, but now have a greater awareness of who is in control, and how I can be in more control.  Somehow we have to sever our ties with those who control our living existence. 

I am watching the news now in my living room and all I see are people crying out for help.  How frustration is growing, and most are fighting with each other, over food, gasoline and anything else they can’t get. People are standing alone, hungry, and asking the camera “where’s the red cross?  Where’s all the help?”  It’s not over, not by a longshot.  More than ever, we have to take our lives back, our world back, and NOT depend upon others to keep control in our name.  In the meantime, I’m going to sit down and watch a good zombie movie.

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