Surviving Sandy: The Day my House Filled with Water

Oct 29, 2014 12:00 AM
Hoboken - Super Storm Sandy

I grew up in this area, born in Jersey City, and I’ve lived through countless hurricanes, nor’easters, tropical storms, blizzards – and even, for thirty heart-pounding seconds in 2011, an earthquake. I’ve learned to take natural disasters in stride. Then my wife and I bought a house here in Hoboken, and instantly I stopped being the kid frolicking on the lawn and became the old man yelling at everyone to get off that lawn.

So, when Hurricane Irene came knocking in 2011 and we were all told to take precautions, my wife and I did so. We took it very seriously, and nothing bad happened. Which meant that the next year, when Sandy was bearing down on us, we laughed and did nothing, unless drinking a bottle of wine and eating our weight in cheese counts as hurricane preparation. When we went to bed early because the power had gone out, I checked Facebook one last time, and saw a neighbor around the corner posting that water was coming in through their front door.

I ran downstairs and pulled up the door into the crawlspace – it was dry.

But I could hear water.

Ten minutes later, it came, streaming in under the door and up from the crawlspace. An hour after that, we had four feet of water in the first floor of our house. We went to sleep listening to the haunting sound of car alarms going off as floating vehicles crashed into each other. One of those vehicles was our car, destined for the scrapyard.

The next morning, we woke up to a flooded neighborhood. We were all trapped in our houses, and leaned out second-floor windows shouting at each other. The neighbors all pulled together for the most part, helping each other out, and when the water subsided we hired a remediation company to literally tear out the entire first floor. Huge fans and dehumdifiers were set up to dry out the joists and studs.

Walter Ortiz from R.E.D. showed up, going from door to door offering his services, and we hired him on the spot to replace everything, even though we didn’t know if insurance was going to cover anything (it ended up covering about 50% of the costs). Walter remains one of our favorite people for the work he did to repair our house.

The worst part – and greatest lesson – was living in the Thunderdome Hoboken had become after the storm. No electricity, no heat. Darkness that was almost complete after about 6PM. We didn’t have any cash, or much food. I'm a weak man partial to running water, heat, and beer on tap, so the this wasn't much fun.

Every night we’d go walk up to Washington Street to see if any of the restaurants had set up gas generators; one night we bought some falafel with a handful of quarters scrounged from a change jar. When the Elysian Cafe started serving cold dinners by candlelight, we went with some neighbors and it was cool and surreal to be in that familiar place under such bizarre circumstances. I may have wept quietly, but then I'm prone to public weeping and no one comments on it any more.

We’re two years removed from that storm, and the house is repaired and the street is almost back to normal. We have an emergency kit of supplies now, so we won’t starve next time. Looking around, you might never know that anything happened – except we still get nervous every time it rains.

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