“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

I thank Charles Dickens for the title of this blog post, but Hurricane Sandy provided the inspiration for its content. Long Island had been overdue for a memorable hurricane. People still remember Hurricane Donna in 1960, and shudder at the legendary Long Island Express of ’38. There was Carol in ‘54, and Gloria in ‘85, but it’s been over 20 years since a storm of such destructive power has run roughshod over the island, and this one was very nearly the perfect storm.

Two old growth trees fell across Remsen Lane.

It flooded homes on Long Island, invaded the New Jersey coastline and Connecticut, as well, and put power substations out of commission. The storm downed thousands of trees, forcing other power substations to shut down to avoid fatalities. That ‘thousands’ is a guess on my part, but based on the 145 trees that fell in our small village—just 1.4 square miles—the total number surely must be in the thousands.

In Breezy Point, a Long Island community on the western end of the Rockaway peninsula, the Atlantic Ocean swept dozens of homes off their foundations. When a fire started, 100 Breezy Point homes burned to the ground because local flooding prevented firefighters from accessing the area. Long Beach, another oceanside community, fared almost as badly. Salt water and electricity don’t mix well.

Slabs of sidewalks lifted like sheets of paper.

On my block, the power went out that first Monday afternoon as Hurricane Sandy flexed her muscles. We thought we’d be without it for a day or two, but as Tuesday dawned and news spread of the wide swath of devastation the storm had left, we realized that our village was in for the long haul. We bought bags of ice and stuffed the freezer and fridge with them. We laid fires in the fireplace for heat and lit candles at night for light. My husband taught our brand new neighbors how to use their fireplace, and gave them wood to burn. We loaned them an extra kerosene heater, and gave them a crash course in kerosene heating 101.

A tree from the east side of the street fell into one on the west side. Both fell like dominoes into power lines and onto the den of a home, invisible here because of the density of the tree branches.

As the week wore on and the food in the freezer thawed despite our heroic attempts to save it, I cooked what we had, and invited neighbors to dinner. Those evenings provided a cheerful break in the gloomy week. When one of our neighbors complained of the cold, I realized she had no fireplace. We were the lucky ones, and while she and I shared the fireplace’s heat and the warmth of companionable conversation, our husbands stood on gas lines together for hours on end, luckily filling their gas cans and going back for more. When they returned, I was thrilled to be able to offer the fire’s heat for their cold feet and hot food to warm their stomachs.

We were ready for it by the time the power returned late that next Monday evening. Only the day before, our new neighbor, taking a break from the renovations he was only able to do by daylight, said, “Ok. I’ve had enough of the adventure. I’m ready to have normal back.”

Ninety feet of tree blocked the intersection of two roads.

We were ready and we were lucky. Very lucky. All we suffered was a loss of frozen food. Even that offered us the opportunity to share community with neighbors. Oh, we still have no TV, phone or internet, but we have a roof over our heads, heat and food, and for that we are grateful.

Others are experiencing greater losses—their homes, all of their possessions, their loved ones. Our prayers and our hearts go out to them. If you can, please contribute something to one of the many relief funds set up for Long Island, among them, AmeriCares, the American Red Cross. A list of other relief agencies can be found at Guidestar.

In the meanwhile, we’re hunkering down and holding our collective breath as tonight’s nor’easter bears down on us. To borrow another quote from Charles Dickens, this from his immortal tale, A Christmas Carol, “God bless us everyone.”

5 thoughts on ““It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

  1. Donna!!!???!!!! How did I not know about your blog before? The posts I’ve meandered through this morning are fabulous–fun to read, but good food for thought too.

    And I’m sorry to hijack your post about Sandy with this comment. I am so relieved you and yours are fine. It some ways it does read like a fun, almost romantic adventure–as some crazy events, written about safely afterward are wont to do. I’m sure that you and your neighbours relationships will always be a little different/closer than most after going through all that together.

    • Dear Ev,
      Glad you’re enjoying it! Hope you come back soon. :)
      It was interesting to say the least. Washing dishes by candlelight didn’t always render the desired results, and constantly tending the fire to warm a two-story home DID give me a glimpse of what life without electricity would be like, and made me hope we find a solution to the wider problem of a long -range energy solution soon.

    • We’re doing fine, though I feel guilty for all those still without power. I did have web withdrawal though and bought a mobile hot spot. LOL Quite a useful toy as I’m using it now as I wait on a gas line.

  2. Donna, even though you were writing about a difficult time, this was beautifully written. We went through a similar ordeal during the Great Ice Storm in January ’98. We were 13 days without power. What a sweet neighbour you are. Even though it was a trial while we were going through it, we emerged stronger and with the knowledge that we could get through anything. So glad you’re okay. Now I’m off to have a better look at your blog! Pam

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