It’s an eerie feeling, driving from town to town, village to village in the pitch black of night searching for gasoline.
All the traffic lights are out. All the streetlights are dark. When you find a station that’s open, the line snakes around the corner or spills onto roadways and lanes of anarchistic traffic not meant for immobile vehicles.
It’s a strange, weird feeling, scouring a Home Depot for flashlights and batteries only to be shown the section of aisle where they’re normally stacked seven feet high and told by an employee, “We have none left.”
Bizarre, really, watching a military Humvee roll down your block or hearing that your state senator compared parts of New York City to London and Dresden after the firebombing in World War II.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking and surreal to stand at the lip of the ocean, now smack dab in the middle of residential neighborhoods across the South Shore of Long Island, and watch the steady stream of residents who heeded public officials’ pleas for mandatory evacuation return home, many frantically searching for loved ones, oftentimes parents and seniors who refused to leave.
The expression of despair and utter disbelief, the horror on their faces, is nothing short of tragic. Trying to imagine the sorrow felt by those who’ve lost loved ones rips at my insides as if my heart is being cut out with a rusty, dull spoon.
Yet tragedy and surrealism are the new reality, not just here, but across the Northeast. Places like Breezy Point in Queens, the Rockaways, Sayreville in Jersey, and of course Fire Island, Lindenhurst, Long Beach and Babylon.
It’s become the new norm.
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It’s unnerving driving through the patchwork of communities that make up this Island 2.7 million of us call home, rolling through the darkened traffic signals intersection after intersection, of darkness and uprooted trees, lifeless storefronts and abandoned main streets, snapped power cables and upside-down telephone poles: Sunrise Highway, Route 109, Jericho Turnpike. Merrick, Wantagh, Seaford, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Amityville, Copiague. The list goes on.
Your mind is so used to the daily hum of life that it seems as if you’re on another planet, full of ghosts.
The radio shares voices of survivors suffering: Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie vowing to rebuild. President Obama promising immediate aid; a “fifteen-minute rule.”
“I lost everything” or so-and-so “lost everything” is a statement heard over and over, from a man filling up his truck at a gas station chatting with a driver in line or the 25-year-old from Long Beach who’s accompanying his girlfriend into waist-high water on Bayview Avenue in Babylon on a search-and-rescue mission for her elderly father stuck on the second floor of his engulfed home.
Suddenly, there is life. Flickers of light up ahead—maybe a restaurant or a deli or even a bakery, streetlamps that somehow escaped snuffing—it almost seems like a dream.
To quote Paul McCartney: “Ob-La-Di.” Life goes on.
For many, it doesn’t.
As of Thursday, four days out, at least 71 people have been killed by Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean and 75 in the United States, including 37 in New York and four on Long Island.
More than 4.5 million people are still without power across the Northeast, down from 8.5 million, and more than 650,000 Long Island Power Authority customers across Nassau and Suffolk counties, down from nearly 1 million, remain in the dark.
Power lines are strewn across front yards and sidewalks. Trees block side streets or hang suspended against telephone and electricity cables. Cell phone service has been knocked out. Schools remain closed. Businesses are shuttered. Entire neighborhoods on the South Shore are underwater, literally swallowed by the Great South Bay. Unknown numbers of residents, many seniors, remain prisoners in their own homes, their bottom floors inundated with seawater.
Other homes were completely destroyed; consumed by fire or erased by sea. At least a dozen homes were swept away on Fire Island, where officials estimate more than 100 residents may still be trapped.
The Long Island Rail Road—the busiest commuter train in the nation—has been shut down for days. Only recently has it resumed limited service but damaged infrastructure makes the timetable for full restoration an open question.
City of Long Beach residents have been without running water or sanitary services since Sunday. Raw sewage is bubbling up into hundreds of thousands of residents’ toilets and drains, compliments of Nassau County’s troubled Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant.
They can’t flush their toilets.
Hurricane Sandy has brought unprecedented devastation and hardship to Long Island and the region. As fellow Long Islanders, we at the Long Island Press share this pain. As journalists, we are striving to do everything in our power to ease that burden, or at least make it less burdensome, most effectively by keeping you informed and sharing your stories.
The Long Island Press is not publishing a print edition this week. Instead, we are focusing our resources online to bring you the most up-to-date, comprehensive and useful information regarding cleanup efforts, road and school openings, transportation issues, shelters and whatever else is pertinent in this time of need.
We will accommodate your requests as much as possible.
Know that we share your pain. Know that we’re listening, and we’re here to help. Know that we care.
—Christopher Twarowski, Long Island Press Editor-In-Chief
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