To commemorate the year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy here is a first hand account from my friend Dominique Gauvard. She was right on the front lines in the Rockaway’s and really captured the reality that nature can be unpredictable and powerful.
“For Sandy.” Part One.
1. I watch the water parade over our protective wall and trample it into oblivion right as our lights blow out. This is the same wall I‘d jump over on dares, used to rest my shoes, and frequented as a seat for a better view. It disappeared in the first surge of white wash of the salt water. At first it comes as a curious toddler – crawling up the block and inspecting every crevice it finds. It quickly matures into a ferocious, beastly parent – scolding us for not quite listening to her warnings. The water invades our homes, claiming their dry walls as property of war. We are under attack.
“This is not normal. We really shouldn’t be here.”
2. A low orange glow brightens up the charcoal coated night. It glistens like sunlight across the sooty sky. It is ominous and looming. It causes you to go numb with the kind of fear that dissipates logic and only causes confusion. You get bits of reason from slight distractions proving you’re still in reality: when you stare into your black apartment, when your phone buzzes with news of those in this with you, or when you hear your father trying to secretly assemble escape plans. It encompasses the whole sky without a trace of a source. Intrigue fades into hysteria. Helpless – you can’t get to them, the ones you love, and can’t be sure how in danger they are. Paranoia – if the orange glow doesn’t spread to you then a new flame will begin here. Fear – there is nothing for you but water and night. Flames lick the sky and clamber closer towards us, mercilessly teasing us. We are trapped by red, blazing walls. We are watching the fire hop closer forcing our flamed prison to shrink.
“We don’t know where to go. It’s literally raining fire!”
3. I’m simultaneously standing at my front door and the water’s edge. The sea has calmed her siege and lays claim over her land. We stand paralyzed at the site of Poseidon’s new kingdom, full of confusion at the drastically different landscape – there is no more earth. There is no more neighborhood. There are only canals that are stagnant and unmoving. The only threat the water holds now is as a liquid barrier for those trapped by the fire. It is her last hurrah in the fight.
“I really feel like I’m in Armageddon.”
4. The SOS signal beams from a barely working flashlight in a barely standing house and barely makes its way down the block to those too trapped to help. We cling to our windows, hoping to see them leave – we never do. Children cry and wail for parents. They howl with a special kind of despair that was reserved for this moment. Their cries before this were merely practice for the display this massive event required. Their voices carry blocks in a chorus of sobs – all for mom, all for dad, all for normal, all for the water and flames to go away. A car floats by with what looks like a man inside. It is the only time I’ve ever seen my father scared.
“I dunno, kid. This is kind of scary.” Silence.
5. It is almost like we briefly have light again from the rapidity of texts coming to our cells – the only way to communicate in this technologically dependent society. This final wave of updates matched the final wave crashing through our street next to our window. My phone lights up as I see the final crest fall.
“The windows just blew in. I just made it out.”
“I had to swim out of my basement.”
“I’ll have to talk to you later – we just contacted emergency services.”
6. I pray for the first time in years. The prayer was not to get out of the situation, but out of certainty that I will not see the sun rise from this night.
7. I’m outside again. The house was too confining and, maybe, if I go outside it won’t be as bad as it seems. The windows are playing tricks on my eyes and this is not reality. It is. The smell is nauseating. The oil rises and envelops my nose in a violating manner. Those ugly, rainbow ribbons of oil swirl at my feet – gliding past the posts of my fence and tops of trees in the island in the street. The smell latches onto my clothes and will not let go. Not even four months later.
“The smell is so thick.”
8. Homes float by – not full ones, but enough pieces to construct one. Their newly finished wood floor glides by another’s stainless steel refrigerator. An oven knocks past a couch and both are stuck by a truck that belongs three blocks away. A roof floats by my porch and I hope that whatever knocked it off didn’t knock the rest of the house over. I wonder what roof their Thanksgiving will be held under.
“There’s cabinets on my porch. They aren’t mine.”
9. I pass out before morning, certain I’ll wake to smoke forcing itself into my lungs. The whole night is devoid of color except for the three indistinguishable infernos. We are all wide eyed with exhaustion and fear, unable to calm anyone to sleep. Fatigue wins only when the bravest souls maneuver boats to tame the scorching homes.
“I can’t sleep. Is it coming this way?”
10. I woke up to a new landscape. We are the zombie apocolypse. We are unable to communicate past groans of pain and shock. We are unable to walk and awkwardly stagger to assess the new apocalyptic world. We are unable to think because our brains can’t understand the damage done. You have ruined us.