11/02/2012 05:35 pm ET

Hurricane Sandy: Elderly See Devastation From The Superstorm For The First Time

With cable TV power finally restored, 86-year-old Gloria Connolly and her 200 neighbors, all holed up for four days in dark unheated Leisure Park retirement apartments in Lakewood N.J., got their first glimpse of the devastation that the rest of the world has been watching for days.

"Their jaws dropped and there were tears," said Gloria's daughter, Jan Connolly, 53, who is special events director at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. Jan left her own home in Neptune City, N.J., on Monday morning, evacuating to her mother's independent living unit to be with her. Yesterday, she said, the reality of the storm's destruction hit home for the elderly residents who have been living without power or TV since Sandy struck. For the first time, they saw images of what Sandy had done to their former homes, their children's homes and the neighborhoods they raised their families in.

"It was horrible, painful to watch," Jan Connolly said, of seeing the seniors react to the destruction. In one aerial shot played repeatedly on TV, one woman spotted what was left of the house she had raised her family in. "The woman just pointed to the screen and began shaking her head, speechless," Connolly said.

"All the iconic Jersey shore things they lived with their whole lives -- they saw on TV what was left of them. It was awful," said Connolly, who quoted resident Betty Barr as saying, "All the things I grew up with are now gone, just all gone."

One woman had given the house she had raised her family in to her son, who had just "spent a small fortune remodeling it," said Connolly, "and now it's destroyed. He has nothing left."

"These are people who have lived their whole lives at the shore," said Connolly. Many were born there, raised their families there and have children and grandchildren still living there.

Connolly, who praised the retirement facility for keeping everyone safe under stressful and difficult conditions, has been sleeping on her mother's couch and pitched in all week wherever she could. The staff, she said, slept in the facility and did a "magnificent job" of caring for everyone's needs. "Leisure Park has been very kind to me and the other evacuees. They let us stay without question. They provided a safe haven, and we are all very grateful. And they worked round the clock to make sure the residents were well cared for and didn't disrupt their routines," said Connolly.

A generator kept power on in the community kitchen and community living room, but the cable outage darkened the TV and individual apartments were without lights or heat. When the TV flickered back on yesterday, Connolly said, "it was difficult" for many residents to watch the scenes of the destruction.

"These are some tough old birds," Connolly said. "Some didn't even have flashlights in their apartments for three nights, but still, they did great. No bitching, no complaining. What a great bunch of people -- truly the Greatest Generation."

"Everyone here is saying how grateful they are," Connolly continued. "We all got through this, and yes, it was difficult, but there are so many who are worse off. You don't realize what you have until you lose it."



Gloria Connolly