A week ago, Hurricane Sandy made landfall very close to our home in New Jersey.
We live in a waterfront neighborhood, where some people live bay-front and the rest of us live on lagoons. Even though a mandatory evacuation was issued, we wondered whether we really needed to evacuate, since we live on one of the furthest lagoons from the bay and because we knew how many feet above mean high tide we are. But, with young children, we chose not to take any chances and heeded the warning. We spent the hurricane at a cousin’s house, leaving our home on Sunday. The storm was at its worst on Monday and by Tuesday afternoon we were able to return home.
From my cousin’s home, we watched strong gusts of wind come and take down trees and saw some flooding but that was nothing compared to what we would see when we went home.
We were very lucky. We could see the water line in our yard. If the water had come up another 1.5 feet, we would have had flooding inside our house. We lost part of our dock, stairs and walkway, all of which were still under water when we first got home. We had some branches come down and a shutter fly off the house.
We have now spent a few days working in and out of the house and are just about back to normal. We lost electricity but it was restored four days later. Now we have a freezer and fridge to clean out. We saved what we could, but couldn’t save it all.
If we lived across the street, just one lagoon closer to the bay, we would have had more damage. The end of that street was impassable because of flooding, so we were one of the few people who could go home on Tuesday. The following day, the water had receded enough to let us walk to the bay at the end of the street. We are the 7th lagoon in from the bay and as we walked, we realized that the damage exponentially increased on every street and lagoon we passed along the way.
The streets were covered in mud that came up from the bottom of the bay and from the marsh. The ends of the lagoons were full of wood, sticks, garbage and random debris from other yards and lagoons. The high-water mark was still visible on some houses and cars. As we walked, we saw more trees down and boats sideways. Then we began to notice how displaced others things were, like docks, pilings, ladders, swingsets, garbage corrals, lawn furniture, fences, stairs. They look like they were randomly strewn across the neighborhood.
When we got to the bay front homes and beach club, we saw a disaster zone. One house that we know of was moved off its foundation completely. The sand from our beach was all over the street and there was a 4-5 foot gap right behind the bulkhead.
The playground equipment was flipped, twisted and turned around. Pieces of the shuffle board floor were found as far as eight houses down from the clubhouse. The club house itself was covered in sand and mud and will have to be gutted. The picnic tables were thrown around as if they were weightless. Docks, if they were still there, were torn up or in someone else’s yard. The fence is covered with sea weed, missing, or twisted under the sand. Writing about it now can hardly do justice to what we saw.
Helicopters have been flying over head every day. We have seen the coast guard, the President, the governor of our state and news helicopters fly above.
We knew we’d probably loose electricity and we prepared for it. We cooked on the grill, kept our food outside in the cooler, made a fire in the fire pit out back and bundled up in blankets at night. The nights were chilly, but we couldn’t see our breath, so it wasn’t that bad. We wore layers and hats and just made the best of it.
Our phone service was shoddy, so when we could, we reached our loved ones and saw a picture or two of the destruction but that was all we could get. We took turns charging the phones in the car so we could have phone service in an emergency.
Today, a lot of people started gutting their homes. Piles of carpet, furniture, toys, tables, beds, dressers, wood, and all manner of furnishings are outside house after house along our street. As you walk, you find yourself counting how many houses away you were from being in their shoes. You feel awkward because you are so grateful that your home is okay, but then again, feel so much compassion and sympathy for your neighbors, who lost so much.
The kids fared well. We have made it fun by having fires outside, reading books by flashlight, playing flashlight tag, and just being open with what has happened and answering questions and reassuring them that all will be fine. They started playing “Hurricane” with my daughter’s doll house today. I heard comments like, “hurry, hide under the stair case, the toilet landed on the roof, get to the corner, the wind has changed direction, why are we losing a lot of stuff,” and a lot of yelling & rumbling of furniture. Then they started laughing and had sharks swimming into the house. Then, the couch floated away and also landed on the roof. There are fairies and mermaids involved, so I think the storm just gave them some material. I guess this is how kids process what they see and hear.
We donated some food and clothes to the local hurricane shelter and our children helped bring the items in. There was as steady stream of people coming in to donate different items. It was so touching that it brought me to tears.
Our neighborhood has planned two organized clean-ups to help those who can’t do it alone. Some are not physically able to do it and others are so overwhelmed that they just don’t know where to begin. There are a lot of elderly people here. We, including the kids, are helping with both clean-ups. I think they will get something out of helping that will stay with them for life. I want them to know how to donate time and self, I want to teach them what people can do after something like this happens, to empower them and to build a sense of community.
The list of what I want my kids to learn from this calamity goes on; I am learning quite a bit, myself. The power of the human spirit is amazing. There are smiles among the rubble and strength in communities. I can see it everywhere I turn: we will rebuild and we will all be okay.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer and mom of two from Hurricane-Sandy-central in New Jersey.
The photographs used in this post are courtesy of the author.