After Sandy: Recalling the Storm, part 2

by Eric San Juan

[Editor's note: Author and sometime PW contributor Eric San Juan is filing post-Sandy dispatches from the Jersey shore daily through January. The series kicked off with a feature story in PW's print edition on Jan. 2.]

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The storm experience started fine. After the modest drenching we got from Hurricane Irene, my wife, Natalie, and I had decided that if we were going to sit through wind and power outages, we’d rather do it at home than at a friend’s. That, and we had the further complication of having to looking after my mother-in-law, who’d had major surgery just the week prior and was still in pretty rough shape. We thought it best to take her in so she wouldn’t be home alone for the storm.

As the first hours ticked away and reports noted the rising tides, I kept a close eye on the water levels in the lagoon out back. They were normal through the daylight hours. Then, shortly after the power went out, the water started coming over the bulkhead. No big deal—I’d expected that. In and of itself, it wasn’t a major worry. Our house is situated on a tall foundation, and our yard slopes down towards the water in the back. The first floor of the house is about five or six feet above the top of the bulkhead, and the water line itself is generally a few feet below the top. I fully expected the lower parts of the yard to flood.

And at first, that’s all that happened. Then it approached the slope that rose towards the house—but it seemed to be holding steady.
That’s when my mother-in-law’s house distracted us.

Jackie’s house was built in the late 1950s, a ranch with a long, relatively flat roof that had been through a number of hurricanes and nor’easters. She’d had roof problems in recent years, though, so we knew we had to keep a close eye on it. When we heard a sound like blankets being shaken out, but loud enough to be heard over the wind, we knew something was wrong. We hurried to look out the side window, and saw that the wind had torn up the tar covering that protected her roof. Now the tarpaper was flapping like a gigantic, house-sized blanket blowing on a clothesline.

It was pretty clear that her house was going to be in bad shape.

We were captivated. I wanted to take photos and video; it was the only thing we could do other than just stare, so at one point I stepped out onto our back deck in an effort to get some video of the flapping roof. Just then there was a terrible splintering and cracking. I saw something huge lift from Jackie’s house and fly into the lagoon. “I’m sorry,” I said. It was all I could think to tell her. “I think your roof is gone.”

And the night was still young.

We were so distracted by the roof that I had forgotten to check the water levels. Went to my bedroom window and saw the water had broken over the “ridge” and was now flowing towards the house. Our foundation is several feet high; as long as the water slowed its rise, we’d be fine. Fingers crossed.

I went back to check to the side window to check on Jackie’s again, and that’s when I noticed it: Water was flowing between our houses. It wasn’t merely wet or flooded. There was a full-fledged tide between them. I had been watching the wrong spot.

The flooding was coming most strongly from the front and side of the house, not the rear as I had expected. It was a foolish oversight; the lagoon is in the back, but now there was a full river just one yard to the south. Glancing out front, I saw that the whole street was covered.

The tidal surge was coming.

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