STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The Bible tells the story of Noah and his experience with the flooding of the entire Earth and how he was spared death through an ark God told him to build. But reading about something that happened thousands of years ago, or even just seven years ago in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina, could never compare to witnessing the devastation water is capable of producing in one's own backyard.
Nothing can prepare a human being for a 6-foot wave gushing down their street carrying what resembles gasoline from a tanker that could potentially burn the whole block down.
But for residents of Staten Island, N.Y., this is much of what we endured during the brunt of Hurricane Sandy this week.
Through foolish pride, myself, many of my friends, and family members who reside by the New Dorp/Oakwood Beach area of Staten Island did not heed the warnings of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who urged residents of our neighborhood to evacuate in anticipation of the destruction Hurricane Sandy was forecasted to cause this past Monday. And after Hurricane Irene's mild damage inflicted on our neighborhood last year, we just did not feel the need to leave, especially with the hype these storms often bring.
Most of Monday was filled with dark skies, extremely strong winds, and a bit of rain. At most, my family and I figured a tree might be taken down and could potentially crush our car or damage our home. Flooding was not a major concern since heavy rain had not been forecasted for our area. It all seemed like just another tropical storm — until around 8:30 p.m.
My father and I were examining our backyard when all of a sudden a noise louder than the 80 mph winds that were part of the storm flooded our ears. A wave of what seemed to be ocean water busted through our back fence carrying an opossum with it rushing toward the back of our house. At first I figured it was just an overflow of the swamp land in the back of my home. But I couldn't have been more wrong.
My father had already made his way to the front of our house and as I joined him I could never have been prepared for what I saw next.
It almost seemed like my street had been removed and replaced with a river that was carrying my car along with many of my neighbors' cars down the street. My 2012 Nissan Altima was actually lifted off the pavement and hurled onto the sidewalk by the waters that ravaged my block. A neighbor of mine even had to roll down her windows and swim out of her car since she could not open the door due to waters pushed up against it.
My next concern was what this water would do to our home. I dashed to our basement and immediately began bringing our valuables up to the second floor. The water in the back of our house started to leak into the basement through the side windows. I kissed most of my possessions down there goodbye and witnessed the destruction of many of my neighbors' homes and cars in the discomfort of my own living room.
My mother was horrified and we were stranded. She has a heart condition and could have potentially undergone a heart attack under these circumstances. My first concern was her life. Then a foul odor of what I believed was leaked gasoline penetrated the air in our home and my father and I were left dizzy and uncomfortable. All I could think about was how I could escape with Mom.
My basement continued to flood and the water got as high as 4 inches. I knew it was a matter of time before the whole room was under water and our first floor would start to fill up. I was completely lost scrambling for ways to escape this horror. By this time my car was completely submerged and my patience had just about run out. I ran out of choices and turned to the only person I knew could help.
I remembered when Jesus Christ calmed the storm when on a boat with his disciples. The next thing I remembered was him telling his disciples that we would do greater things than him.
So I walked down to my basement and asked Christ to calm this storm and not let any more water into our home. I walked back up my stairs and waited for God's response to my prayer. Thankfully, the wait was not that long as my father told me the waters had begun to recede. My car became visible and my backyard started clearing out. A miracle had occurred and we were thankful for God's protection. We were able to grab a pump from our pool once the water had gone and used it to remove the flood from the basement. Aside from losing a car, my immediate family made it through the hurricane without a scratch.
The relief was not enjoyable for long as calls and texts began flooding our phones. My brother, whose home is just three blocks away, was devastated by this same wave. His entire block was under water and he, his wife, dog and three kids narrowly escaped before their first floor was submerged. They retreated to a friend's house and unfortunately for them, the water did not fully recede until late Wednesday.
They lost everything except their clothes and beds located on the top floor. The apartment attached to his home that a friend of mine was renting was also completely underwater.
The next horror story we received was from my sister who lives in Rockaway, Queens. Water had come up to her first floor and she and her family retreated to their bedrooms on the top floor. She also lost everything.
Friends and family living in other parts of New York City that were clear from the water still lost power. Not losing it for us was a gift and a curse.
The damage we witnessed on the news inflicted upon the New Jersey Shore, the coast of Staten Island, and other parts of the city is catastrophic. A simple walk down the street reveals a ravaged neighborhood that resembles a war zone. And for many of us who endured the worst of the storm, the wave still haunts us when we sleep.
My church has become uninhabitable along with the homes of our two pastors. Other members of our congregation are still missing. Dead bodies were found in the beach area behind our home and many areas of Staten Island are still without power and closed off to vehicles. Boats have been found on the street and cars are piled on top of each other in parts of the Island.
The house where my family spent many Thanksgiving holidays located in Breezy Point, Queens, was flooded and burned to the ground. Thankfully, my uncle who once owned the home no longer resides there.
Nothing could have prepared us Staten Islanders for Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it brought to our community. The events of this storm have been life-altering and the rebuilding process will be long and emotional. What we once thought was something that only happened to people in other countries or people in other parts of the U.S. was delivered to our front doors. Words and pictures just don't do it justice. It's truly something you had to endure in order to really feel its terror.