After Sandy: Recalling the Storm, part 3

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.]

* * *

I’ve seen tides rise and fall. I’ve seen major storms push huge amounts of rain into our waterway, elevating water levels by two or three feet. But this I had never seen before.

Once Sandy’s tidal surge came over the bulkhead that surrounded our block on three of four sides — the first time in 40 years any of us had seen that happen — it rose quickly, far faster than I imagined it could, sweeping between houses and flooding the street.

The family had multiple cars sitting outside. Suddenly afraid of losing them, I thought it would be a good idea to move them to higher ground before they drowned in the tide; I make a writer’s wage, which means “not a helluva lot,” and abruptly I realized I wasn’t sure if our auto insurance covered flooding. With that in mind, I opened the door to venture outside.

Bad idea. Too much debris in the air. Whereas the winds earlier in the day had been thrilling to stand in, almost invigorating, now they were simply frightening. Took my breath away. Worse, the water was nearing my knees, while the trees were swatting the air like horse tails flicking at flies. Even if I avoided getting hit by a tree branch, a power line could come down. There were already signs of sparking transformers on adjacent blocks. And if a power line came down while I stood in knee-deep water, I’d die. Screw the cars. Not worth it.

So now we were stuck in the house, and the water kept coming.

We used to love that water. It was a pleasant background to our life, providing relaxation on a weekend day, sweetening our modest little slice of heaven. Now it was an ugly, black, irresistible force, a relentless bully surging into the yard and down the street and rising higher and higher, beginning to swallow our cars and my mother-in-law’s house next door, until finally we were swamped by water that was so deep it was no longer “This is a lot of rain” but “Holy hell, this is Biblical and we should get the fark out of here.” But we couldn’t. Not anymore.

Our tall foundation, built on a rise in the local land, had once seemed as though it would be comforting in the off chance there’d ever be a flood. The water would have to come over the bulkhead and then keep rising for three, four, five, six feet before it became a big deal. Well, that’s just what it did. For a while, it looked like we’d be living in the attic.

We watched with wicked fascination until the water reached our backyard deck, which meant it had already risen about four or five feet. Then it started to climb up the deck and front porch: up a step, then another, then another. In the driveway, the water rose up to our tires, and then to the hoods of the cars, and then the hoods were under and the water was rising above the dashes.

A little after midnight, it was still rising. Knowing we were on the verge of losing our home, I started dishing out orders to the family: Throw the breaker. Unplug all the electronics. Throw essentials into plastic bins. Clear space in the attic to sleep. Lift whatever you can in the house up a foot or so. I didn’t know how floods worked. Would we be living up in the attic for a few days? Better grab supplies with that in mind.

Then, a few inches short of fully coming into the house — with my mother-in-law’s house next door already flooded (it sits a few feet lower than our house) and its roof ripped off and who knew what else at that point — the water, having fully submerged our cars and any hope of going anywhere anytime soon, stopped rising. As far as we could tell. Now there was only to wait and make sure it was truly done.

I did not sleep that night.

* * *

[Editor's note: Eric's own storm-night narrative picks up from here in the feature story from PW's Jan. 2 print edition. Tomorrow in the blog: The view from the island.]

One Response to “ After Sandy: Recalling the Storm, part 3 ”

  1. Eric Preston says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Mr. San Juan, I look forward to reading more of what you have to say.

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