11/17/2012 7:30:00 AM Courage, kindness and hope in Long Beach
By Suzanne Flory
Editor's Note: Suzanne Flory, Public and Legislative Affairs Officer with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, recently traveled to New York to assist in the Superstorm Sandy recovery effort. Flory, who lives in Rhinelander with her husband and two children, agreed to share this firsthand account of her experience dealing with the aftermath of one of the worst storms in U.S. history. Flory's story will continue in the Tuesday edition of the River News.
Anytime I am near the ocean I get a giddy sense of anticipation about seeing that broad expanse of water, smelling the sea salt, hearing the waves, feeling the sand. This time, however, my giddiness was quickly replaced with a sick feeling that started in the pit of my stomach and got worse the more I saw.
For two weeks, while much of the rest of the country was focused on Halloween and a presidential election, I served as both the Information and Liaison person with the Forest Service Eastern Area Incident Management Team called to assist with recovery efforts after "Superstorm Sandy" tore up much of the coastlines of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.
Our first week was spent supporting Forest Service saw crews clearing roads in heavily impacted areas of Connecticut. Then our team was told to report to a parking garage by City Hall in Long Beach, N.Y. We had no idea what to expect. I had partly grown up in nearby New Jersey and had never heard of Long Beach. Now, it is a place I will never forget.
As we navigated south from Connecticut through the crazy east coast traffic, things looked pretty normal, until we crossed the final bridge to Long Beach. Then it hit us, we were now in one of the hardest hit areas. You know, like the ones you saw on the news? I can tell you, it is different when you see it firsthand; much more real. We arrived on Nov. 5, the day before the presidential election and a week after Sandy had her way with the island.
A city of roughly 33,000 people, Long Beach is on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y., about 25 miles southeast of New York City, and only about 15 minutes from John F. Kennedy International Airport. It is located in the middle of a barrier island that is less than a mile wide, stretches 10 miles west to east, and is connected to the mainland by three bridges. This barrier island was one of the areas that took the brunt of a record breaking surge of water pushed by the powerful wind and waves of Sandy.
As we drove slowly along the main street in the middle of the island to our right, looking into the bright sun to the south, we could see the Atlantic Ocean only a few blocks away. To the north, on our left, we could see the open water and marshes of Reynolds Channel separating the island from the mainland.
The buildings on either side of the street were marked by a line left by the highest level of the surging water; in places it was 5 to 7 feet high! It was nearly impossible to imagine the water surging from both sides of this long thin island and colliding in the middle, higher than the car we were sitting in! Hundreds, if not thousands, of cars were tossed like toys all over the place, seaweed and garbage stuck in their grills, windows misty with closed in moisture. Some of the cars were on the center median, making it look like a city with a lot of bad drivers. Others were left in odd angles in the side streets. Seeing this, I gained a new appreciation of the raw destructive power of such a huge volume of water pushed by wind and waves.
Mountains of garbage lined all the streets, mattresses, toys, furniture, bags of food, everything from inside the homes. Sand covered all surfaces. All the traffic lights were out. Stores and restaurants boarded up. Heavy sandbags tossed all over like they were nothing but play toys for giant cats. A boat sat in a store parking lot and port-a-potties were on every other corner. People were all bundled up pushing carts along the cluttered sidewalks.
It was like dropping in on a movie set filming one of those "end of the world" movies. I could tell, in better days this island is a beachside vacation mecca. It was apparent that, unlike other shore vacation destinations, this place was mostly home to year-round residents. The houses damaged and destroyed by Sandy were not all vacation rentals; they were homes where many of the people I was soon to meet were born and raised. A lot of the population, thinking it really would not be as bad as predicted, chose to stay in their homes during the storm.
As we approached our parking garage destination, we could see it had become a major staging area full of numerous law enforcement agencies, National Guardsmen, fire trucks, ambulances and the like. Our Forest Service Eastern Area Incident Management Team, a small group of 12, was soon standing together amidst a group of responders that had been there since shortly after the storm first hit. It quickly became obvious that, although it had been five days since Sandy had smashed ashore, there was still no power, no water, it was cold out, and the forecast was for it to get even colder.
As the wind whipped around our heads and we waited for further direction, I took advantage of the brief pause to venture the few blocks to the boardwalk to see firsthand what Mother Nature had done. I passed piles of garbage, cars tossed about, and a workman trying to clear sand covering the roadway. I was relieved to see that, although there were many signs of serious damage, most of the two-mile boardwalk still stood and was intact. As I was walking back I couldn't help but notice a playground that looked like a bomb had been dropped right in the middle of it. I learned later it had been a brand new playground, just finished, and not even opened to the public before Sandy hit.
NEXT: Joining the recovery.
Posted: Saturday, November 17, 2012
Article comment by:
Dear Suzanne, thank you for coming to help us! You have no idea how much we appreciate it. Yes, it is a year round community. And we are going to come through this better and stronger. Thanks to people like you lending us a beautiful generous hand. Much love from Long Beach...the best place in the world...Brigitte
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