I live on an island in Jamaica Bay in Queens, NY with my boyfriend Vinny, who has lived in the same house all his life. The island is 1 mile wide by 3 miles long. We are in evacuation zone A which was ordered to evacuate. In 2011 we were ordered to evacuate also, and we did. We went to Syracuse to a relative’s house. The water came up barely into the house, making the floors “squishy” but not a lot of damage. Getting home after the storm was a horrible experience because the roads in New Jersey and Pennsylvania had suffered a lot of damage.
Along comes Hurricane Sandy. A few things happened to make people not evacuate. First being that the mayor didn’t think it was going to be that bad and initially told people there would be no evacuations ordered. Second, NO ONE thought the storm would make that left turn, it never had before, why would it now. Third, we were being told the storm surge would only be a foot or two higher than Irene, putting water in the house but not all that high. And lastly, the storm was so large that there wasn’t really anywhere to evacuate *too*. We have cats, our evacuation area is Aqueduct Race Track, which now has a Casino attached to it, so there was a lot of joking about that. Nobody actually went there.
Since our experience with Irene was mostly ok, and the most difficult thing was getting home, we made arrangements to go into a neighbors house that was a two story house. Our houses have a common deck that is a couple feet high, so we were not worried about not being able to get into that house. We were expecting an “exceptionally high” moon tide, but for those on the water, high tides are common, they come in slow and you can easily get up above them.
The morning high tide came up to our second step, everyone was outside on their porches and stoops watching it rise. The evening tide was supposed to be a couple feet higher, and the storm surge was supposed to be mostly affecting Lower Manhattan. That’s what we were hearing on the news. Not that *we* were going to get a 13 foot storm surge. We thought we would be overnight at the neighbor’s house on the second floor and the water would come and go and we would be able to go back and forth between the houses for clothes, medications, cat food and other things we should have brought. We had put laptops and hard drives and clothes and suitcases up high on desks and shelving and on top of dressers. I’ll talk more about that in a subsequent post.
The decision not to leave was based on misinformation, past experience from those that lived on the island a long time, and the lack of anywhere to go. Had we left, it would have prolonged our ability to get our houses emptied of salt water contaminated with home heating oil and propane gas soaked contents. At the most we would have saved a suitcase full of clothes and a few more electronics. In the end we would still lose our home and everything in it.
We were prepared for 2 feet of slow rising tide, not prepared for a fast moving tsunami-like storm surge. We barely made it into the neighbor’s house before the surge started. We got our cats into their house, I grabbed my MacBookPro and a few papers from my desk and those plus the clothes on our back is all we had. And our cameras. As a pro photographer, I always have to have my camera. We have photos and videos I will be sharing in the coming weeks.