Like millions of other people, I was glued to the television when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and I watched the relief efforts with horror as people were trapped in their homes and relief workers tried desperately to get them out. As you know, so many people lost their belongings, their homes, their pets and many even lost their lives.
I never thought that I would ever experience anything like that.
I wasn’t home when Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, NY. I was in Florida visiting my dad. My mom passed away on June 1st and this was the first time back to his house after her passing. It was an emotional experience but I needed to stay strong for my dad and make sure that he was organized and in order.
My flight was canceled Monday evening. I was in a panic because my husband was in our house and I couldn’t get in touch with him.
The flight was rescheduled for Wednesday evening. We knew the hurricane hit the north east hard but we didn’t really know how hard.
My husband finally got in touch with me to tell me that our cars were totaled and everything on the first floor of our house was destroyed due to the flooding.
It wasn’t just the salt water that spewed into our home, it was also the sewage system. He explained that the toilet was gurgling out water.
As the plane landed I cried. I tried not to because my son was with me and I needed to stay strong but it was very hard. Here I just left my dad’s house, carrying a sweatshirt from my mom as a “security blanket,” wishing desperately that she was alive and that she could tell me that everything would be okay and knowing that I didn’t have a home to go to. It was a scary feeling.
We couldn’t get into Long Beach because of the mandatory curfew so my son and I stayed at my sister’s home the night we landed. We couldn’t sleep. As soon as the sun rose, my son and I went to Long Beach to access the damages.
Driving into Long Beach, we saw boats everywhere but where they should have been — at the dock or in the water. I looked at my son and couldn’t believe that the wind was that strong to bring the boats so far from where they originated. There was lots of property damage too.
But when we got into Long Beach, we were amazed. We found my husband at his business Topper Realty/TRC Property Management in the center of town. He was running around with work crews going from building to building making sure that everyone in the buildings that he managed was safe and helping the buildings siphon out the water.
His business on the corner of Riverside and Park had so much flood damage but he focused on his work and making sure that the people were safe before thinking of his business or even our home.
Driving around Long Beach, I saw frightening scenes of pieces of the Long Beach boardwalk on Park Avenue (several blocks from its original location). I also saw ticket taker booths that once were on the beach now several blocks away. And for the sand, it was everywhere!
Anyone who lived by the beach got it the worst. Riding around I saw so much destruction. It looked like a war zone. To make it worse, the military were there riding around in their hummer vehicles. I kept seeing vehicles with flashing lights pass me and there were lots of places that you couldn’t even drive through because of barricades.
When I finally went back to my house, I noticed that my neighbors lost their home altogether. Their car exploded and the house was destroyed. Next to that, my house looked in tact. I had a tree fall over in the front of the house and you can visibly see the water line that surrounded the entire house.
But the worst thing was when I walked in and smelled the stench. It smelled like rotten sea water. Everything was still soaked almost three days later. It was very disturbing.
When I looked in my car, there was still a puddle of water in it. The car was totaled and apparently under water.
Although once affluent, now my neighborhood looked like a slum, just like the rest of the town.
But you know what? The people in Long Beach are resilient. We will get through this. As long as the people are safe in our lives, then we will rebuild and make Long Beach even better than it once was.
Hilary JM Topper, MPA is President/CEO of HJMT Public Relations Inc. in Melville, NYC and Rochester. Her firm focuses on PR, social media and inbound marketing. For more information, call 631-393-0220 or visit www.hjmt.com. Topper also hosts a radio show every Thursday at 2 pm. You can catch it at www.blogtalkradio.com/hilarytopper