Monday, November 05, 2012

The Hurricane Sandy Report: News from My Mom in Valley Stream, NY (Long Island)

My parents, sister Beka, brother Nate, sister-in-law Brittyn, nephew Soren, and niece Coco live on Long Island, just ten minutes east of JFK.  My mom sent this email out today about their experience with Hurricane Sandy.  Amazing to think about what life is like for them and their neighbors right now--a strange mix of war torn barrenness and 21st century normalcy.  Long lines for gas, intermittent wi fi, candle light, cell phones, cold water, and Wal-mart.  I love Mom's account for sharing some of these details.  I thought the world should know her account too.   
Sunday, November 4, 2:30pm

I have a quiet minute and this computer is charged for the moment, so I thought I would write some about our experiences during Hurricane Sandy. It has been quite a week since her advent. Outside today it is sunny and very quiet---no planes are going overhead, although I know some are landing. I can hear sounds from the kitchen where JoAnn is working her kitchen magic on our gas stove and Nate and Brittyn are getting ready to take Brit to the airport to catch her plane to Houston. It has been fortunate for  us that she was able to be here to work the last two weeks.

Last Saturday was a lovely autumn day, Homecoming at South [High]. We made a 100 sweet rolls to sell at the Festival for the PTSA, there was a parade, floats and a football game. Jeffery was in Boston for a stake conference at Peter's stake. Things were peaceful and we were all getting ready for the incoming storm, though people weren't really sure of what the effects would be. We had shopped on Friday morning getting extra batteries and milk. We tried to buy a generator, but they sold out just as I got there.

On Sunday it was overcast and things felt more serious. Nate felt impressed to leave church and on the way home he saw a man selling generators in the parking lot. He and Britt made a great executive decision and we were the lucky owners of a generator---which has been such a blessing!(It was also a blessing to the man who had bought six of them and made a lot of money in the American tradition.) Our neighbors gave Nate some pointers: caulk the garage door shut and learn how to open and close the sewer.Nate took Malinka's up and bagged up their sand pile to add to our sandbag pile. Some of the neighbor's displays were very impressive--three bags high along the entire front of the house. The wind started increasing and Jeffery was able to change his ticket for an early return which was great because his might have been the last flight in that night. We had a lovely open house at the church in spite of the storm using the public affairs program, Mormon's Next Door. It was great and a few brave souls came  inspite of the storm. We decided to park our car at the Mall on an incline higher than our neighborhood.

On Monday the winds were rising, but there was little rain and Jeffery and Nate had time to do some last minute planning. Jeffery felt directed to cover the garage door with plastic and staple it up and wedge the edges with sandbags. Nate and Jeffery were getting gas when the little car refused to start. The repairman came out and said he would work on it on Monday so they left if there and he was nice enough to bring them home.

 We settled in to wait. The wind was dramatic. High tide was coming in to peak at 8:30pm. We were ready with the pumps and kept checking. The lights began to flicker and we realized that the trees were going down and we could hear and see the transformers explode. Our lights flickered as the trees in the two yards in back of ours went down over the lines and people saw the transformer go. We were checking outside and I think it was about 9:00 that the water started in the gutters down the sides of our street. It surprised us that it was coming from the other side of the neighborhood on the west side instead of the stream that is by the houses across the street.

We all went outside and began working, some of us bailing in the driveway and some of us building a dam of branches with leaves across the driveway. (Who decided that having a driveway that goes down to a basement garage was a good idea in this neighborhood anyway?) Brittyn was the force behind the dam and it was working, keeping the flow from pooling in our driveway, but it didn't take long for us to realize this was a different scenario from last year's Irene. I have a clear image by the eerie light of the full moon somehow reflecting under the clouds of Brittyn up to her waist in water in the middle of the street as the water was rising.

When it was up to the sidewalk we knew the battle had to be different. Nate and Jeffery went inside with hand pumps and were pumping the water that was seeping around the edges of the garage door. We had several different barriers of sandbags at that point, by the new door and wall into the basement and across the door into the family room where the furnace and water heater were. This battle went on until 2AM. The garage door was bowing in precariously. Outside the water rose to the top of the bricks in our driveway and then above to the front steps. At that point the river was from our neighbor's front porch across the street to ours and as far down as we could see. At one point we worried that we might have to evacuate so we flipped the switch on the boiler, but soon realized that we would all stay, but the water heater wouldn't start again.

We could see dozens of car that were flooded up to their doorhandles and our neighbor's sandbags were all underwater. Miraculously for us, at about 2am the water started receding and we all came in and showered with what was left of the hot water and agreed to get up at 4am to bail and see what would happen as the tide came in again. It was a short night and we gingerly put on our wet clothes again to go out. We found about 3 feet of water still in the driveway, about one foot in the garage, about 3 inches in the hallway, and the great news was we only had an  inch or two in the family room. The furnace was saved since we had put in on blocks when it was installed, and the water heater too. We had spent the weekend taking all of Nate and Brittyn's boxes from the crawlspace upstairs, as well as the emergency equipment and the tools.

We were really spared the worst of the storm because the tide didn't rise again. We spent the early morning bailing the driveway just in case and to decrease the pressure on the door, but it had  held! We were without power, but were were so grateful. The gas range worked, we still had the water that was ok to use and the sewer system was still intact. This has been a great blessing and many people have had to spend the week in the increasing cold without these amenities. We got our generator going and we have been able to save what was in the frig. Our friend JoAnn Kovaly who lives in the apartments between us and the Mall brought down her things from her frig and you should be here to see the meals that she has prepared! She is quite a cook---we have had a lovely fish and rice soup, beef fried rice, burritos, lemon chicken and pasta and tonight there is chili simmering in the kitchen.
We have all enjoyed this as have many of our neighbors!

JoAnn said that during the storm she heard a commotion at midnight. People were yelling to each other to move their cars because their parking lot was flooding. They drove their cars up over the grass between the buildings to get them out. One car on the road was engulfed in flames and the firefighters were there in the middle of the storm to fight it. When our power went out, Jeffery called LIPA and they were also there during the storm.

We had a chance in the next two days to survey the damage. All the homes along our street were flooded nearly to the school. The two trees that went down behind us were huge, but not as big as many in the neighborhood. Nearly every street was blocked by an uprooted tree, but I only saw one that was resting on a house, though several crushed cars. Whole parking strips and sidewalks were ripped up as these trees went over. It is so dramatic. In the entrance of our area many giant trees went down and more in the park across the street. The power people really have their work cut out for them.

The area south of us along the shore, all in our District is pretty devastated. The ocean went up over Long Beach and Far Rockaway to the bay on the other side. Joe S.'s father had water through his first floor and lost both his cars. That was the norm. Occasionally the water would spare some cars here or there and some neighborhoods even had power--Helene H. and the neighbors on her side kept theirs even though she has a live power line across her porch. We spent Tuesday carrying out all the things that were in the garage---the wood, food storage buckets and stuff. Even though we were really spared, there still was a ton of stuff to carry out, discard or disinfect so it could be put back. We had put out airconditioners on chairs and stacked the critical wood, but it was still a mess. President Bevington and Teresa came on Tuesday evening and helped us out. Most of the Island was out of power and many parts had been flooded. Entire sections had been washed away.  Several marinas were lost and even the boats in dry storage were had floated everywhere---even through houses. One man had five boats on his property.

Jeffery has been working tirelessly on the emergency planning with the stake and mission presidents since the storm was predicted. Since our internet was out and our phone service has been very spotty the planning and meetings has been tricky. We could charge up with our generator, but the issue has been getting gas. Jeffery waited on the standing line at one station for 2 1/2 hours just to fill the gas cans. The gas lines go for miles at any station that has electricity restored, and usually they run out before the line does. The supply lines are not working yet since the refineries were flooded or out of electricity.

Jeffery has been up early and late every day. The church has been very generous and truckloads of supplies are arriving to central points in the various states. This all has to be requested and arranged by the area 70's and the local leaders. The man from the church who helps coordinate in disasters arrived yesterday with a satellite phone for Jeffery and some other leaders and 125 gallons of gas for the workers. Yesterday Jeffery was awakened at 12:30am and got up and has many inspirations in these early morning hours.

People wanted to help right away. It took the first day to start to assess the damage and find what had happened to church members and neighborhoods. To get things started since the Mission President here was ready to let his missionaries get busy, Jeffery told them to come to our neighborhood since there were so many needs. It was a happy sight to see the dozens of elders and sisters getting out of their cars in front of our house. One elder who had been in our area and helped us with our home said he recognized the address and said, "Oh no, not again for the Olson's!" They went door to door asking to help, and it only took a little while until that nice army of missionaries were doing their great work! Some of Nate's pictures and the quotes from our neighbors are apparently on the Church website.
We had Sacrament meeting for an hour yesterday morning as a district and then the branch members were off to Far Rockaway which is on the shore line to the south west. They were met there with about 400 other members from Queens who came in by bus. They worked all day in hard hit neighborhoods where people lost their basements and first floors as well. Someone pulled out her college graduation diploma out of a wet bucket to show Soren and Beka. People were so grateful for the help. One man had owned an Italian restaurant and he found a way to cook all day and kept the pasta coming outside his house for the volunteers. He must have had a gas stove. We have had  members there who will have to move and have lost everything. The Branch President also sent crews directly south to the Long Beach, Island Park area to search out inactive members and get work orders in the neighborhoods. Jeffery hopes that there will be 2000 people there from the Church on Saturday and  Sunday. Tuesday is also a holiday and the church members will work tomorrow as well. Jeffery will take a group to the Ross Lipsky's father's dental office in Howard Beach and help clean that out. I hope we can gather a group of kids from South High to help a neighbor I met yesterday who is on Heatherfield right by Hook Creek that overflowed. He said his house was an island and the water rose in his basement up to the second step below his main floor. His house is really high so that is incredible. Jeffery said that the destruction on  Far Rockaway was intense and ours would have been just like it if the water had risen two more feet.
The power crews have been in the neighborhood since the beginning. We hope they can get us into service soon. The temperatures are dropping at night and we hope we will have electricity before the pipes freeze. We have a water-baseboard heating system. If the power goes on our heat should just start up. Our neighbors who got their burners flooded will have trouble. They will have to wait to have their furnaces replaced. Last year after Irene we had to wait10 weeks before our gas burner could be put in and in many places it is not available yet. We haven't been too cold as of yet. We have the stove going all day cooking and at night we light the fireplace. We eat by candlelight and we have had some nice celebrations with our neighbors. We roast marshmallows for dessert, so you can see that our indoor camping has had some benefits. We bought some wool socks and a long johns today (Monday) and we still have the old trick of having the children sleep together to stay warm.
Our green car had some electrical problems coming back from the airport last night and Nate waited for two hours in the cold before AAA could get to him. The guy says his family owns 36 stations and only a few of them had gas and they were charged a huge surcharge so they sold it to customers at somewhere around $5.50 a gallon. The lines at the gas stations that I saw opened this morning (two) were about six blocks long, better than the weekend.
At BJ's I heard this woman yelling at her son---"Don't you dare ask for anything when you have just lost your house!" She did it in several different places and I'm sure she needed some validation and comfort. School should start for our kids on Wednesday just in time for the predicted Nor'easter. They are hoping that it won't bring flooding or more problems for the electrical work. The power company is set up at the Mall for a headquarters, they have poles, lots of trucks and equipment there with a fleet of cherry-pickers. Beka is scheduled to go into the City tonight with her friends to see Phantom of the Opera. They bought group tickets some time ago and it seems like a bit of welcome normalcy. The trains and getting back to business. They said they are crowded and sporadic. Sometimes so full that no one can get on and you just have to wait for another. Nate took the train this morning to work and Jeffery took the bus.
Our phone service has been very spotty, as has been our ability to charge the phones and computer. We borrowed a wifi connection so I can only use it to send for a moment. Thank you for your calls, your love and prayers. Dale offered to bring gas to us and we almost took him up on it but we are fine for the next few days. Thank you Dale and Kitty! I can't get to my account, but Coco had been using hers before the storm so I will send it to Anika to forward it to everyone she can. I will send pictures when I can get back to our computer, this one does not have a card reader.
I was reading the scriptures on Sunday morning and read in JST Luke 3:4-11 about the beautiful mission of the Savior as listed in Isaiah 61:1-4. For behold, and lo, he shall come, as it is written in the book of the prophets, to take away the sins of the world, and to bring salvation unto the heathen nations, to gather together those who are lost, who are the sheepfold of Israel, Yea, even the dispersed and afflicted;and also to prepare the way, and make possible the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles; And to be a light unto all who sit in darkness, unto the uttermost parts of the earth; to bring to pass the resurrection from the dead..."  I had to laugh because I was sitting in bed snuggled under the covers in the dark with a flashlight over my shoulder.
Any light on a very dark cold night is welcome. Our lamp in the kitchen is like a beacon both welcoming and tormenting to those who are sitting in the dark. The full moon on the night of  Sandy still lit up the night despite the clouds so we could see to work outside as the waters were rising. The candles on the dinner table and the flicker of the fireplace are comforting and warming. The light of someone's smile as they come to help and the person who smile's gratefully in return are beautiful and exemplify that when we hold up our candles we are the light of the world, and "others seeing our good works will glorify their Father in Heaven." But the sunlight keeps us alive and the Savior is literally and figuratively the light of the world. 3 Nephi 18:24 says "Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up,---that which ye have seen me do."
We are grateful for the Savior, for the gospel, for the preparations suggested by our leaders that have lessened our fears and discomforts, for the preparation and generosity of a Church full of people who make it possible for the resources to alleviate much suffering in difficult times, and the good neighbors and friends that we have here in New York---pray for them. We are bundled up--alive and well and we love you all! Take care, Love Julie