THE BLOG
11/01/2012 11:58 am ET | Updated Jan 01, 2013

The Woodsburgh Tsunami -- How Hurricane Sandy Swamped Our Little Town

In Genesis, Chapter 7, Verse 11 it says, "on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened." In religious terms, I'm probably what you might call a believer, but nevertheless until this week I always had some doubts in the back of my mind about Noah and the Great Flood.

I live in the bucolic little village of Woodsburgh, NY -- a tiny place of 800 souls in Southwest Nassau County on Long Island. Woodsburgh recently celebrated its 100th Anniversary and I daresay never in its organized history has the village seen anything like Hurricane Sandy.

All of South Nassau was under an evacuation order -- not just the folks living in towns like Long Beach and Atlantic Beach on the barrier islands -- but the whole southern part of the county -- probably about 400,000-plus people. To say there is no place on Long Island to put 400,000 or more evacuating people is an understatement and so despite the perfunctory warnings from officialdom, most folks "sheltered in place" as the talking heads are prone to say.

Woodsburgh is kind of on the water -- by that I mean we have a coastline that meanders along a series of inlets, creeks and streams, which in turn lead out to a bay and across that bay is the Long Beach barrier island and across that is the Atlantic Ocean -- but that ocean is probably six or more miles away as the crow flies from Woodsburgh.

As of 7:00 p.m. on Monday the streets of Woodsburgh were dry, there was very little rain, and although very windy, it seemed as though we might be spared the storm's worst effects. In actual fact, New Jersey and the front coastlines of Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau took the Hurricane's most brutal impact with whole neighborhoods swept away all or in part. Even lower Manhattan was inundated. Nevertheless the tidal surge that swamped the Battery Tunnel and drowned the subways would also manifest itself along our quaint streets.

At 7:30 Monday evening the cable and internet went out. By 7:45 so had the power. Neighbors started texting one another about the water. The water? By 8:00 there was a foot of water rushing down my street (which is about a block and a half from the inlet). By 8:15 it had covered my front lawn. By 8:30 it was up the first of six steps of my front stoop. By 8:45 it has risen dramatically to the fourth step. By 9:00 my house and those of my neighbors was surrounded, enveloped by three and a half feet of rushing seawater. By rushing, I mean it looked like a raging torrent. The water stretched across the golf course that wraps itself around the village. The water surrounded stand-alone garages. The water consumed bushes, shrubs and anything not tied down. The speed of the water's rise was of seeming tsunami proportions. Just after 9:30 the water was about four feet high with no way to know if it would keep rising.

To say that my neighbors and I were a little spooked sitting in the dark (well, there were candles and flashlights) not knowing if we'd all be driven to the second floor or to the roof was unnerving. They say there are no atheists in foxholes -- amend that to say there are few during raging floods as well.

Miraculously the waters stopped rising and by 11:00 started receding even faster than they arrived so that by 11:30 the street and our lawns were dry, as though someone pulled the stopper out of a drain. As the water retreated it left behind a "bathtub ring" around our houses delineating the frightening high-water mark. Most cars on the block (a good many of them SUV's and minivans) were rendered immobile by salt water and would not start. Amazingly, my plucky low-to-the-ground Mazda MX5 two seater started right up the next morning (spewing water out of the exhaust pipes) although from the seat bottoms on down it was soaked. Sea water is very damaging to cars so I imagine mine might join those of my neighbors in eventually becoming immobilized but it sure has been fun watching the neighbors gawk at the little car that could.

It turns out that my street actually wasn't as badly hit as some nearby. At the far end of our village is a marina and town dock. The boats moored in the marina and those being wrapped for winter storage on land were hurled more than a block inland by the hurricane and the tidal surge so that 40 and 50 foot boats are now docked on peoples' front lawns and one boat even made it inside someone's living room. There must be 20 of these boats now high and dry as lawn ornaments.

Basements on our block filled with water anywhere from a few inches (me) to a few feet high and an enterprising local plumber with a mobile generator and pump made out like a bandit pumping everyone out. A lot of stuff will be mold-encrusted and soon will fill dumpsters. For sure the storm will have a profound economic impact on the region.

As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday we still didn't have power (along with much of Long Island). Power crews (four trucks) from North Houston (as in Texas) were up and down our street today but, alas, still no juice. Life without power feels more like 1812 not 2012, so dependent have we become all on things electrified. How did people live before the advent of Thomas Alva Edison? Very darkly in some ways. The bright spots are those of neighbors caring for neighbors and communities coming together, bringing out the best in ourselves in trying times along with the small number of fatalities in the face of Mother Nature's intense wrath. Stuff can be replaced, people not so.