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Hurricane Sandy: What Have We Learned?

Categories: General, Natural Disasters, Preparedness

Image of structures destroyed following Hurricane SandyBy Maggie Silver

Superstorm Sandy

Long Beach is your typical northeastern city nestled on Long Island. A mix of apartments, homes and buildings set on the water with an idyllic boardwalk that draws in plenty of tourists during the summer months. And like many other cities in the tri-state area, it was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy.

As we gear up for the 2013 hurricane season, which starts June 1, we thought it would be practical tospeak with some of the people who survived the biggest storm of last year and one of the most devastating to ever hit the area. That’s how we landed in Long Beach, talking to Alex Feygis about his experience and the lessons he learned about preparedness. 

Alex and his wife were living in a fourth floor apartment overlooking the water last October when Sandy hit. When the weather reports started predicting the storm that would eventual shatter the east coast, Alex, along with many others, thought it would be nothing more than what Irene had brought that previous summer. A few flooded streets and maybe some scattered, but short lived power outages.

So when the police drove down their street Sunday evening ordering a mandatory evacuation, Alex understandably found the situation, “a bit unnerving.”

Car damaged during Hurricane SandyTime to Evacuate

Alex and his wife moved their cars to what they thought was higher ground, packed a few days worth of clothes and headed to his in-laws that lived nearby in Oceanside. Unfortunately their in-laws’ one-story ranch was quickly overwhelmed with flood waters once Sandy hit. Relocating for the second time wasn’t that easy though, power was out across the city and cell service was spotty at best, not to mention battery life was draining quickly.

“I hadn’t considered communication being a problem; I guess I’m just so used to always having a cell phone.” Alex and Farrah had to stay put for the next 24 hours until they could communicate with his parents who lived farther in-land and the whole clan packed up and moved in…for three weeks! That’s how long it took for things to start to resemble normalcy.

A Slow Recovery

Although Alex’s actual apartment hadn’t flooded on the 4th floor, the lobby was under 5 feet of water and the plumbing and electrical system was totally shot. That was the case for the entire city of Long Beach who had no clean water for two weeks thanks to the sewage plant flooding. Even after potable water was restored, the apartment building had to replace boilers and electrical systems.

Needless to say, Alex and Farrah’s two day supply of clothes and necessities ran out quickly and they had to make a trip back to their apartment amid all the wreckage to re-up on supplies. When they returned, they realized their cars had been totaled due to the flood waters, which posed a whole new set of problems for them. It wasn’t an option to buy a car so they had to try and rent one to get to and from work (oh yeah, just because Sandy wreaks havoc on your life doesn’t mean you get a free pass from work). So Alex, along with hundreds of other newly car-less residents tried to rent a car. A shortage of vehicles wasn’t the only problem the couple faced though; the gas shortage also compounded things.

“It made returning to normal that much harder,” Alex recalls “Even the smallest trips made you think, is it worth wasting the gas on?”

On the plus side, Alex and Farrah had a strong family network they could lean on. Alex’s parents lived far enough inland that they had power restored quickly in their temporary home and there was access to grocery stores and other supplies. Although his in-laws sustained significant damage to their house and had to rebuild, they were properly insured and the money to rebuild has been slowly trickling in. 

Damage outside of an apartment building following Hurricane Sandy
Did we learn anything?

 

After talking to Alex though, I began wondering, did we learn anything from this event? Was it so catastrophic that people will go back to their complacency and assume nothing that big will ever happen again? It seems to be a common theme I hear when talking to people who lived through this. But even if another Superstorm doesn’t hit, aren’t there things learned from Sandy we can apply to even the more “mundane” storms.

Take for instance the gas shortage, sure chances of a massive run on gasoline that lasts for days isn’t that likely to happen again, but what if you had to evacuate and you had trouble finding gas for just that one day? Wouldn’t you give yourself a pat on the back for having the foresight to have tucked away an extra gallon in the garage, or stopped by the gas station on your way home from work when you heard the weather report?

Same goes for having an evacuation plan. Where would you go if you were told to leave your house and what would you bring with you? This doesn’t cost any money, all you have to do is sit down and think about what your plan would be and what you would take with you (think: important documents like birth certificates, passports, and deeds).

This is not to say that Alex didn’t learn anything from his experience. His first thought was reconsidering his evacuation plan. They’d make his parent’s house or a hotel even further inland their first choice for evacuation instead of the in-laws. They’d also have a few more supplies on hand and keep their phones well charged if an impending storm was approaching.

New Year Resolutions

As this year’s hurricane season approaches I hope you’ll take a moment to consider what you would do, not just in the extreme situations of Superstorm Sandy, but even in the more common thunderstorm or one of the possible 20 named storms that are predicted for this year. They may not be as extreme as Sandy but they can still bring with them destruction, flooding, evacuations, and any number of interruptions to everyday life.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. July 1, 2013 at 1:04 pm ET  -   David M. Williams

    So many post-storm issues can be resolved with water, yet most people do not fully consider how much volume and weight a suitable supply of water can be. With limited trunk space, a supply of water for three days for three people would be nine gallons of water weighing 75 pounds. I recommend that people consider buying a water filter pump device that will provide potable (drinkable) water. These filtering devices are small and can cost less than $100 dollars. Carry half the weight and volume and use a pump to provide drinking water from available storm water runoff. Use your bottled water as a back-up supply if you can’t find water, as with salt water contaminated supply. Boil water orders do you no good if you have no means to make a fire, but are surrounded by water that could be successfully filtered. I have three pumps; main pump, pack pump, and a back pack camper pump.

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