Survival. . . . It is not a light subject. Not everybody likes when I bring it up or when I want to put the Weather Channel on during happy hour.
I feared a storm such as Sandy for 10 years, ever since seeing a flood map while training for disaster relief with the American Red Cross. I volunteered after I moved back to Long Island from Tennessee, where I weathered two tornados that turned my town to rubble. The damage from those storms, which remain nameless, changed my perspective on Mother Nature. From then on, I educated myself, watched the Weather Channel regularly, and set storm alerts on my smart phone. I spent a lot of time and money on an emergency preparedness kit and plan.
After glimpses of the tragedies caused by Hurricane Katrina, I upgraded my emergency kit and plan to include an inflatable boat, to be sure my two cats would not drown, and a waterproof, fireproof safe for my pictures.
Living on Shelter Island during Hurricane Irene, I watched the predictions for several days. I had told myself for years that a direct hit from a Category 1 hurricane would warrant evacuation, and when that seemed likely, I made a reservation on the Cross Sound Ferry. Unsure what to do when the day neared, the ferry company made my decision for me — trips were canceled due to the storm.
The reality of living on Long Island is that there is one way out, and the roads will be closed if you wait until the storm arrives. Hurricanes do not offer an escape even for those with access to travel by air or sea.
Despite the predictions of surge with high seas as never seen before, and warnings from many who thought I was crazy to stay on Shelter Island, I was not scared this time. I’m chalking it up to intuition. As I was told when I was freaking out during Irene, it is a “sheltered” island. I took the inflatable boat out of the box and wiped it down, but I didn’t feel the need to blow it up. I bought a flashlight and some canned food, I froze water, and filled my car with gas. I poured a few batches of lavender candles and then drove around the island with some local boys in a gigantic truck that was formerly used for military operations, and took pictures with my waterproof camera.
Although I had no running water, and when it did flow was told not to drink it due to possible well contamination, I am extremely grateful to have sustained no damage to myself or my belongings. The biggest challenge has been reclaiming my positive attitude.
The East End was spared severe devastation but our neighbors to the west, not so much. The suffering and homelessness of many Long Islanders of all ages and backgrounds has been hard to grasp and accept. I replay images and words seen on Facebook from the Rockaways as well as my hometown of Lindenhurst.
I went back home to see boats thrown all over the place and piles of rubble in front of each house south of Montauk Highway. I thought I would take pictures, but it was so sad . . . I wasn’t sure. Then I was yelled at by a resident for driving down a street near the water (thoughts for those who say the media is not covering the tragedy).
I explained to the distraught former classmate who scolded me that I wanted to help, and asked what she needed. She said “a place to live.”
I try to stop thinking about the pain, and to replace the thoughts with good ones. It is sad to see people from Lindenhurst lined up for food and clothing donations, but I focus instead on the smiling child who had lost it all and had been given a stuffed animal from Lindenhurst High School alumni in Virginia, whose community sent a truckload of relief supplies.
Always in awe of first responders, I get chills hearing heroic tales such as that of John Curley, a volunteer Bellmore firefighter who punched out a window, jumped into a blazing house, and came out with an elderly woman on his shoulder.
There are rising stars everywhere, from individuals who always seem to go above and beyond, to new groups such as East End Cares, started on Facebook as a discussion forum, that have taken on areas in dire need farther up the Island, and save lives daily.
Many affluent people and businesses have donated generously, and ordinary citizens have given their time and services from the use of a shower to organizing and supporting a relief concert benefit.
This is what needs to happen, consistently. It helps both giver and receiver. Help fulfill a specific need, give a dollar or two, or your time. Volunteer to make a sandwich, or deliver it on the many buses headed west. Care for those who depend on it.
Carrie Ann Salvi is a reporter at The Star.