How our community came together after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy
October 29th, 2012 is a day that greatly impacted our family, church and neighborhood. It’s been six years since Hurricane Sandy devastated our community. Sandy’s record storm surge slammed against the city’s shore, causing billions of dollars in damage, plunging the city into darkness, and ultimately killing 43 people. Eight of those were from our own Midland Beach neighborhood and 24 from Staten Island. Several people that attend our church, Oasis, were stranded on their rooftops all night when the water came down and flooded our streets. Other friends needed to be rescued by boat from their second floor windows. Our congregation was displaced for 13 weeks from our church building.
I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. Our church building and parsonage, which is where we call home, sits five blocks from the shoreline. We were having our regular Sunday morning service and cell phones began going off with emergency warnings. A woman stood up yelling that we had to evacuate. My husband calmed everyone down and said it was just a warning. The evacuation was not to go into effect until Monday. Later that afternoon as the wind picked up and a light rain began to fall, many residents went inside their homes, turned on computers and television sets, fired up video games and opened books waiting for the storm to pass. No one took it all that seriously. We knew New York City never experiences severe hurricanes. In fact, one year earlier, we were threatened with Hurricane Irene. That storm, for all of the hype, was nothing compared to what Sandy would bring.
We didn’t believe it would be as bad as the news was reporting. Then we began to get phone calls from neighbors, just a couple of blocks from the beach. We realized it was much worse. My husband tried to rescue one family but couldn’t get through to their street, since the storm surge was moving so fast. I had packed bags earlier and began running them through knee high water to the car, getting my three children and two dogs into the minivan.
I’ll never forget how we were screaming to our neighbors inside their homes to get out. My next door neighbor had no idea what was happening as he watched me in disbelief, run to and from the car and house. He just barely made it out with his own family. Panic began to seize family after family in Midland Beach as the water rushed down the streets.
Around 6:45 p.m., water from Lower New York Bay breached the beachfront road and poured into the neighborhood, knocking out power and eventually swallowing entire blocks. Our homes make up a low-slung neighborhood of many one-story bungalows and newer two-and three-story houses. The eight that lost their lives that night lived within about eight short blocks of one another. Apparently these were highest concentration of deaths in the United States attributable to the storm which killed more than 100 people.
The storm surge turned our neighborhood into a lake that was more than nine feet deep in some places — nearly enough to fill the victims’ homes. People have long been drawn to Midland Beach for the quiet, affordable real estate and proximity to the water. That night, our neighborhood became what looked like a war-torn disaster zone.
Our family was able to escape the surge by God’s grace. We had to drive through the storm 30 minutes away to my husband’s parents home, which is on the other side of the Island. It was like something out of a movie, dodging flooded streets, downed trees, and exploding electrical transformers. I thought for sure our kids would never get through the traumatizing experience.
When we made our way back to our home the next morning, we returned to utter devastation. We lost the entire contents of both our church and parsonage basements and into our home’s first floor. It was surreal. It took us minutes to stand and take it all in. We were in shock. After a few minutes, my husband was on the phone to his best friend in PA. His ministry and church were behind us all the way. They were at our front door that night with supplies, gas and food. People came from everywhere to help remove the entire contents of our home and basement. There was no time for mourning.
Throughout the traumatic events we will never forget how our neighborhood banded together. Our little church became a staging center. City officials came and set up in our sanctuary, filling our building with supplies. CNN came to interview my husband. Ministries from all over the country, as well as Canada, came to volunteer. We set up a disaster services area in the churchyard where people came from the neighborhood to register for help. Teams of people were sent out to help with clean-up and re-build which lasted months. It was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Too many stories and too many miracles to recount.
Looking back we clearly saw God’s hand through it all. Even though we suffered through the most difficult of times, it made us stronger together. Organizations and ministries came alongside our church to donate what would go to help so many families in need. On display was how beautiful God’s people can come together to turn a disaster into something beautiful. It made us grateful for what we have now.
So when the season changes and we enjoy the fall foliage we are still reminded of how far we have come and have learned to be grateful for what we have.