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Hurricane Sandy: Lives Changed in a Single Night

Catholic Home and Garden Almost Completely Destroyed

We lived on a little barrier beach island off the Atlantic Ocean called Long Beach, NY. It was a quaint little city built on a sandbar. For the most part, everyone knew everyone, if not by name, then by face. It was a city known for it's beautiful beaches, long boardwalk, and excellent fishing. It is only 7/10 of a mile wide at the widest point.

In its early days most of the island was built with little summer cottages. As time went on, larger homes were built and condos sprang up along the shoreline for the well-to-do. We lived in one of the first cottages built in 1922. It was not a grand or fancy home, but it was our home -- and home to Catholic Home and Garden.

When you live by the sea, you are always aware of hurricanes and nor'easters. In fact, we bought our home after experiencing a flood 20 years ago in a rented home. Our landladies were not exceptionally responsive and I said to my husband, "That's it. We're buying a house. I don't know how, but we're buying a house." And that's what we did. Prudently we also bought flood insurance.

Last year Hurricane Irene blew through. We boarded the windows and we evacuated to my sister's house. Most of our neighbors stayed because that's what you do when you live in Long Beach. You stick it out. At my sister's we watched the lifeguard shack come off its pilings and float into the boardwalk. We were alarmed because the ocean breach that carried it came down our boulevard - one house away from ours.

We called neighbors and they said all was well. So we came home. The house next door was flooded, the houses across the street were flooded, but our little house was fine. We didn't even lose power.

So when we heard about Sandy, we decided to stay. How bad could it be? We soon found out.

My husband boarded up the windows, just like he did for Irene. This time we added peep holes on the top floor. My son and two friends came to stay with us. We brought food and water upstairs, including supplies for our two dogs. We had comfort foods to calm the nerves and crank radios -- as well as one from my friend Miles Stair at  the Wick Shop. The oil lamps were ready, flashlights were on hand. We were set. I decided to cook a roast beef so we would have something to eat even if the lights went out. I was checking on the roast when I heard a strange gurgling noise. I looked down and saw water coming up through the floor - and screamed for everyone to grab what they could and run upstairs. My husband had the foresight to shut off the electrical breakers.

That night was one of the most frightening we've ever experienced. Although it was dark out, through our peep hole we saw the ocean raging up the street. Eventually it was too dark to see anything and frankly, I was glad. I think I might have died of fright if I had seen it all. (There is a chilling video here of the ocean coming through some blocks away)

At some point I took a flashlight and shown it down the stairs to see how far up the water was coming. The spot where the beam fell illuminated a print of Jesus The Divine Mercy floating and facing me directly. I knew then that we would be alright. But more on that image of the Lord later ...

At the right you can see that print in the corner at the bottom of our stairs in the doorway to my office. Since then I've carried it with me, cleaned it off and it is now framed in our bedroom.

In the morning, it was difficult to comprehend what our eyes were seeing. The house was a complete mess with sewage and mud and broken furniture everywhere. The bits and pieces of our lives were strewn and muddied beyond recovery. A walk outside around our home and community was simply mind boggling. There were bits and pieces of people's lives strewn everywhere. You couldn't quite comprehend what you were looking at.

There was something odd in my driveway and it wasn't for several days when my son identified it as piece of a restaurant located a 1/4 mile away.

There was an emergency lane post on the front lawn that came in from the beach.

In short, our town looked like Armageddon had come and gone. My husband and I were Red Cross volunteers and had gone to Louisiana but this was nothing in comparison.

As we walked around the neighborhood I saw one of my planter boxes from the raised garden beds  three blocks away. I asked my son to bring it back. It was silly, but I wanted a tiny piece of "normal".

Little did I know that things would never be normal again.

I could fill pages with what occurred in those next several days - and eventually I will. No help arrived until the early morning of the 5th day. That was when the National Guard brought in Porto-sans for every block in our community. No more using buckets.

It was cold. It was dark. Everything smelled awful. We were under curfew from 6 am to 6 pm. Military vehicles and men and women with assault rifles were everywhere. Eventually we started to get sick. We were lucky. We had a car. Almost everyone's car in our neighborhood was either flooded, buried in sand or went on fire - setting homes on fire as the wind blew the flames under the eaves.

We left for my sister's house, 70 miles away. Unfortunately my husband had to come to work in the city, often working 2 and 3 shifts in a row to help get things working again. And, there was no gas, so back we went to the cold, dark, stinking house. With two dogs in tow. 

During the course of things we had piled up some boxes to salvage a few things. On top of one, standing up right was St. Faustina's Diary of the Divine Mercy. I asked my husband if he had placed it there. He said no. He had no idea where it came from. And, in fact, all our books were destroyed, but this one was dry.

God is good. All the time. FEMA was offering hotel rooms but they had all filled up. Through a series of happy coincidences we found an apartment -- and one that allows dogs!

This is a long story, but to continue towards today, December 20th, it has been a grueling round of inspectors and adjusters and lawyers and architects. When the rip out of the walls and floors was done, it was apparent that our home could not be saved. The ocean cracked the beams in the ceiling and shoved our poor little cottage off the foundation.

Where we are now. We wait. It is doubtful that insurance will cover the cost of tearing it down and rebuilding. Where we go from here? Only God knows. But the message of that floating Jesus is clear: Jesus I trust in you.

The road will be a long and painful one. If you are inclined to help us pull the pieces together, we would be grateful. And you will help us help others who are in the same or worse conditions than we are.