I've been meaning to write about our experience with hurricane Sandy for awhile now, it's just hard to put it all into words.
We spent the weekend of October 26-28 in Schooley Mountain New Jersey on our Gallery Church fall retreat. It's a fun weekend to get out of the city and spend uninterrupted time with the people who are our family here in NYC.
On our way home the weather report was looking more and more like we might really be in trouble with the storm, so we stopped at a grocery store in NJ to allow some of the people in our van to stock up on a few items.
When we got home that evening, 24 hours before the storm really hit, the wind was already blowing strong enough for there to be a steady whilstling sound coming in our windows, that lasted for the next 24-36 hours.
Sunday evening our hot water was turned off.
Monday we stayed inside all day. We spent the majority of the day with our neighbors one floor below trying to keep the kids entertained.
First, we had hallway play time. That was fun for a hour or so till a neighbor on the 12th floor complained about the noise we were making.
After lunch we had movie time at our apartment, I think Tinkerbell was the movie.
An hour or so after the movie was over we gathered again for story time and cookies with our neighbor Rita.
Jack also read the crew a book.
At this point the winds were getting stronger and stronger. We still had electricity, but we were encouraged to stay off the elevators because we could loose electricity at any point.
Many friends from church were gathered at each others apartments waiting out the storm together. We all got on Google Groups and chatted with each other. It was a fun way to connect during the early parts of the storm.
The rest of the evening was fairly normal. We put our couch cushions in the hallway for the boys to sleep on since their bed is right by a window in their room. Lillie was going to sleep in our bed but had trouble going to sleep because the noise in our room was too loud. Our bedroom is on the corner of our building and the wind was beating against the walls causing it to be pretty loud in there. Lillie was scared and ended up back in her bed where it was less noisy.
About 7:30 or so I read a post on Facebook that our neighbor across the street had posted saying water had completely covered Ave. C within 5 minutes. Our apartment overlooks Avenue C, which runs along the East River. Our section of the street was not completely covered at that time, but the water was rushing in and getting higher, and within another 5 minutes it was covered. The kids were all asleep by now and Freddy T. and I each went downstairs to our neighbors house to look out over 20th St. Already the street was flooded up to the tops of the cars. The scene was eerie. You could see car lights flashing and alarms going off from the water taking over the cars. I think by 8:30 we had lost power. The storm was in full rage by then. We finally just went to bed, anxious to see what the morning revealed.
Looking over 20th St. from our neighbors apartment window.
I woke up at 3 a.m. to feed Parker. It was the strangest experience after 36 hours of loud wind and rain, it was totally quiet and pitch dark. We live right by a highway and there is always traffic noise; cars passing, horns honking, motorcycles reeving, now nothing. And we can always see the city lights from our windows and the lights from other apartment buildings that surround us, now nothing, no city lights, no street lights, nothing.
When we woke up in the morning we had a better understanding of the damage done in our neighborhood. We had no electricity, so we were unaware of the rest of the area, but what we saw in our neighborhood was bad enough. Many basements of the buildings in our neighborhood were flooded. Even today, almost 2 months later, they are still cleaning out basements. (Just yesterday I saw them hauling storage items out of a basement, plastic tubs full of peoples things and dark, moldy hurricane water.) There was no water, heat, or electricity. We wanted to see what the neighborhood looked like so we loaded up the family to go take a look. I had Parker strapped on me and together Freddy T. and I helped get the kids down 14 flights of very dark stairs. We had flashlights, but even so, it was dark. We walked around for a little bit. The water had receded and there were a lot of trees that had fallen down. There were so many people out taking a look at all the damage. Our neighborhood was in pretty rough shape, cars in the middle of the street that had been carried there by the flood waters, windows of cars busted out by floating debris or pressure from the water. Sticks and leaves all over peoples floorboards and jammed in the steering wheels, just a big mess everywhere.
After we walked around for a while I took the kids back upstairs and Freddy T. went to the Upper East Side where there was electricity and everything was going on as normal business to charge our phones and figure out if our church members were ok and figure out what he needed to do to start aiding in relief. He tried to secure us a hotel that evening, but everything was booked. We were able to get a hotel for Wednesday night and ended up having it through Sunday night. Tuesday night we hung out and had sweet family time by candle light. We had dinner and played a matching game and all went to bed. By now it had been several days since we had taken baths and our apartment was beginning to get chilly, but we were ok.
This is the crane that broke in the winds on 50th St.
Wednesday morning Freddy got out again to charge phones and check in on what the Gallery needed to be doing to aid in relief. Early that afternoon we packed a few clothes for each of us, only things that would fit in one bag and headed to the hotel. It was Halloween so I threw the kids costumes in just in case. Once we made it to the hotel we got cleaned up and went to a diner for dinner. It was so good to be clean and get a warm, good meal. Afterwards Freddy T. sat in the lobby and did work, while I sat in our hotel room with the kids, gave them baths, and watched more Sponge Bob than I ever care to admit. We don't have cable, so Nickelodeon was a real treat. I don't really care for Sponge Bob, but our kids love it...lucky for us it was on over and over again! We had 2 queen beds and one little couch/chair to sleep on. Parker had a pack-n-play. The funniest thing that night was Lillie and Elliott's obsession with the telephone in the room. They played with it for a long time, so funny. I didn't realize how unfamiliar they were with a phone that had a cord.
Eating dinner once we got to the hotel.
Lillie pretending to be on the phone
Halloween night didn't really exist for our kids. As soon as I got to the hotel I realized dressing up and going out wasn't really realistic, so we just went to the lobby and bought a few special (over priced) treats.
Parker was a champ in the hotel. He would nap anywhere we put him.
Since our hotel was above Grand Central Station (the only one we could get a room in) Parker got to explore GCS for the first time.
Our friends, Chad and Stephanie Monroe, live in West Point, NY and offered for us to come stay with them while we were displaced. Freddy T. thought that would be good for me and the kids, but he really felt like he needed to stay behind and assist with relief efforts, so Thursday morning Stephanie came and picked us up and Freddy T. stayed back. We had a good time at Chad and Stephanie's. The kids had a fun time playing with their kids. It was just what we needed for a few days. And the best part was that Halloween was set back a night in their neighborhood due to storm clean up, so we got to go trick-or-treating with them our first night there. The kids loved it! It's the first time our kids had been trick-or-treating in a neighborhood, door to door. They only know it on the streets of NYC, so it was a fun experience. Chad and Stephanie were gracious hosts to us.
There was a cadet parade. The cadets drove by and threw candy. The kids all thought it was fun!
While we were in West Point, Freddy T. worked hard organizing and sending people out to help in areas that were damaged and without heat and electricity. There were many efforts going door to door in high rises making sure the elderly had food, medications, water, blankets, etc. They did this for days. They were able to help so many people. The churches here in the city were among the first responders for relief assistance. Here are some videos, with updates from the work Freddy T. was helping facilitate.
I stayed with the kids for a few days in West Point, but headed back to the city Saturday afternoon. We were unsure if school would be opened on Monday and I was eager to be back and try to establish normalcy so Stephanie drove us to the train station and we headed back on the Metro North. Stephanie would have driven us home, but she was getting low on gas and wasn't sure if she could get to the city and back on her tank and there was no gas available between here and her home.
The kids watching a movie in the car on the way to the train station.
The train ride back to the hotel.
We spent Saturday and Sunday night again in the hotel, watching more Sponge Bob. We got word late Sunday night that the power had been restored to our building and that the kids had school the next morning, so Freddy T. took them to school Monday and I packed up the hotel and we headed home. Freddy T. actually had a trip previously planned to be away Monday through Thursday. Since we were able to go back home I assured him we would be fine and for him to go on. What I wasn't prepared for was the elevators to be out of order. This would normally not be a big deal, but we live on the 14th floor and that's a lot of steps for anyone to climb, but trying to get yourself and two 3 year olds and a 5 year old up and down is kind of crazy. We limited that as much as possible and thankfully by Wednesday morning at least one elevator was up and running.
Sunday morning breakfast in the hotel before heading to church.
When we returned Monday morning, after being gone a week and no power, it felt like the entire apartment needed a good cleaning, especially the kitchen. Freddy T. arranged for a few girls to come over that night and help me get things in order again. I had to empty everything out of the freezer and refrigerator. (The frozen bread dough I had in the freezer had thawed and risen and frozen again.) Again, doesn't seem like a big deal, but our garbage shoot was not available because it emptied into a flooded basement and the elevators were out so I had to haul bags and bags of heavy trash down the stairs to a garbage can outside our lobby. All things considered we were in pretty good shape. Many more neighborhoods on the shore and outer boroughs were in bad shape. We got hot water on Monday night, heat on Tuesday night and elevator service Wednesday morning.
It's hard to tell but this was a glorious sight. I heard some noise in the hallway and looked out our peep hole and spotted the elevator guy working on our elevators. Huge sigh of relief!
I had a babysitter come on Tuesday after the hurricane so I could go vote and get groceries (had to get stuff to make cupcakes to take to school for Lillie and Elliott's birthday the next day) and not haul the kids around and up and down the stairs. This is what the shelves looked like... basically bare.
This was a week after the storm. Cars still all over the place that had not yet been towed.
It was a crazy experience. In a sense I feel like I didn't see it first hand or get to help out much because I was taking care of the kids and away for a few days. It made it a little hard to process everything that was going on. I think it was more stressful than I even realized, because in the moment you just do what you have to do.
Here is a building across the street from us. You can tell how high the water got based on the white residue left on the building.
Today our neighborhood is full of large machines still drying out the basements of most of the buildings. We'll be living in the aftermath of the storm for a long time. Once the basements are dried out they'll be gutted and rebuilt. Our laundry room was in the basement and of course is not available now. We've been sending out our laundry. They pick it up when I call in the morning and bring it home dried and folded in the evening. This has been really nice and quite a time saver for me. In the end it actually evens out financially, I think we'll stick with it, even after our laundry is back in service.
I think we'll see God use the storm to open doors for ministry for a long time. I hope that he'll use the outreach Freddy T. and the Gallery Church did to impact people and draw them to himself. There have been so many generous people to give to the Sandy Relief fund and to help us with our expense while we were displaced.
Since this is the 2nd year in a row we've been warned about a hurricane or hit by one, I think a hurricane kit will make its way into our closet. It's too much to think through to get prepared the day or two before the storm hits.