The predictions were dire. Hurricane Sandy had been stewing in the Caribbean for days. It was projected to travel up the East Coast of the United States and then make a left turn—heading directly into my home at the Jersey Shore.
A year ago, my husband, Terry, and I had heard similar warnings about Hurricane Irene. Officials were predicting a direct hit and ordered everyone to evacuate the islands along the Jersey Shore. We moved as much as we could from our ground floor, which actually goes down two steps from the sidewalk. It included the queen-sized mattress from the futon in our recreation room, the television, my husband’s drum set, tools and boxes and boxes of Lovefraud materials. Then we evacuated.
Irene came and went. Other parts of the country got smashed, but not us.
So when those same officials predicted that Sandy was both a hurricane and a nor’easter, the storm of a generation, promising devastation like New Jersey hadn’t seen in many years, well, Terry simply did not believe them. He didn’t think anything could be that bad.
I did. As a kid, I’d played on the beach in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, among cinder block foundations in the sand—all that remained of homes that had been swept away in a hurricane. The first street in Longport, New Jersey, was named 11th street—because 1st through 10th Streets had been consumed by the ocean. People said New Jersey was hit by killer storms every 100 years—and we were overdue.
But then I started to doubt myself. After all, I’d lived in the area for nearly 35 years, and nothing truly bad had happened. There were many scares, and most of them amounted to nothing. Still, as a journalist, I knew that there were honorable reporters who told the truth. And they were saying that even though Hurricane Irene was a dud in our area, Hurricane Sandy would be a terror.
I wanted to heed the warnings and prepare to evacuate. Terry decided he was not going to leave.
We argued. Terry said I could leave if I wanted to, but he was staying. He said nothing happened the last time, the media just wanted to scare people, local officials were just covering their butts, and the weathermen always get it wrong.
I was torn. In the end I didn’t want to leave my husband alone, so I didn’t actually agree to stay. I just stopped arguing to leave.
I started carrying our possessions from the ground floor upstairs again. Terry went shopping to buy food to ride out the storm in our home. He reluctantly helped me carry the futon mattress upstairs again. He did not move his drums. He put them on top of the empty futon frame.
The night of Sunday, October 28 wasn’t bad. We heard some wind, but it wasn’t howling. We heard rain, but it wasn’t pelting. We slept well.
But the storm was predicted to hit Monday, along with two high tides, which would be higher than normal because of the full moon. The first high tide was slated for 8 a.m. Long before 8 a.m., water started coming into our basement.
It was actually ground water, percolating up through cracks in the basement floor. We ran a Shop Vac and mopped, and were able to stay ahead of it for maybe an hour, as the bay crept up the street. Slowly, however, the water surrounded our house. Before long, there was two feet of water in the basement. We sloshed through the water, carrying up more items that hadn’t been moved, like Terry’s drums. Other items were consigned to wreckage.
I freaked out. The hurricane still hadn’t hit land yet, and the next high tide, in 12 hours, would be worse. Terry finally admitted that he was wrong; he had underestimated the danger. So when the water receded at low tide and the streets cleared, we made a run for it. We took our last chance to get out of town.
As we drove away through the rain, I asked Terry why he didn’t believe the warnings. “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “I just didn’t think it could be that bad.”
And that’s why I’m telling this story. It is an indication of how our beliefs, or lack of belief, can lead us to disregard warnings and evidence. This is how we get in trouble with sociopaths—by never having experienced anything like them, and not believing it is possible for people to actually be that bad. So we fail to act, until it’s almost too late.
Although our basement flooded, we made out a lot better than many other areas of New Jersey. Seaside Heights, the location for the infamous Jersey Shore reality TV show, was smashed to smithereens. The streets of many beach communities are filled with tons of wet sand, deposited by the raging ocean. And in New York, a fire wiped out a hundred homes, while firefighters, blocked by floodwaters, couldn’t reach them.
We’re back home. We have electricity, gas, telephone service and Internet, but our heater is ruined. We’ve been hauling trash out since Friday.The entire basement has to be gutted and repaired. But in the end, I am grateful that for us, Hurricane Sandy wasn’t much worse. I feel very badly for the thousands of people who suffered far worse. Below is a video from Sea Bright, New Jersey, which is near where my brothers live (and near where Bruce Springsteen lives).