Our Hurricane Sandy Story

This home above belongs to a friend of my brother Walt. You can see directly into that bedroom upstairs like it's a dollhouse. Every house on this street was equally damaged.

Sandy lived up to her name. There used to be a paved road where that sand now sits. In this house, where the inside is now outside, we could actually see a pot still sitting on the burner of that stove, and a bottle of ketchup on the counter top.

On every street there were homes like this, ripped open and exposed by the fierce winds.

The winds ripped entire walls from houses. Hundreds of houses, all within a couple miles from our home.

In this spot there used to be a dune. Those rocks in front of Aaron should be underneath a seven foot tall hill of sand. The tidal surge came in and completely washed the dunes away.

Forgive me if this is a complete wreck of a blog post. The power just came back on minutes ago and my typing fingers are still frozen stiff from an entire week without heat...or light!! I think the monitor might be hurting my eyes! As you may already know from many previous posts...I live on the Jersey Shore. And if you turned a TV on for even one second in the past week you know that the Jersey Shore is absolutely devastated. My little town suffered so so much damage. And so much of my beloved Jersey Shore is pretty much wiped off of the map. I cannot stop crying. All of those images you are seeing in the newspapers or on TV...those are pics of my backyard. I don't want to write an epic here. I am going to try to keep it as brief as possible. I guess the best way to tell this would be chronologically. I am so jumbled and the last seven plus days of darkness, and dampness, and fear, have all blended together. I really hope I'm able to tell all of this to you so that it makes some sense. I've never been through anything like this and I hope to never ever go through it again.

Sunday---the day before Sandy hit. A business as usual Sunday except for all of the news reports saying that we're about to be hit with a storm that no one has seen the likes of in more than a hundred years. There's really not too much you can do to prepare. We went grocery shopping and the stores were pretty much wiped out. And it's a bit of a quandary...you need supplies but you don't want to buy anything that needs to be kept in the refrigerator...because you know that the power is going to go out for a loooong time if the storm hits as hard as they say it will. The winds are picking up a bit, everyone you know is a bit wary but no one believes it will be as bad as the news is predicting.

Monday---the day of the storm. Absolutely no rain in the daylight hours. It's windy and the sky is looking ominous. We're beginning to see the news reports from places farther south and Sandy the hurricane is looking just as bad as they said she would look. But it's still early in the day. Aaron's parents, who live across town from us are able to take a walk to this little wooden walkway up on the beach and they report back to us that in their thirty plus years living on the bayshore, that they have never ever seen the bay looking so big and so fierce. We're hoping that the dunes that stand between our town and the bay are tall enough to keep the tidal surge held back. Me, Aaron, and my brother Walt spend the day securing the house and yard. Taking down the deck umbrella, laying the chairs down flat, taking in the plants...putting away anything that can become a projectile in high winds. Walt drives his girlfriend's car to the next town over, farther inland, and parks it there in case of flooding. Luckily for us Walt has a jeep with giant tires and it's lifted up so that you nearly need a ladder to climb in, and it has a snorkle exhaust so that it can drive in almost six feet of water. And he's filled the gas tank plus a few Jerry cans. During the day Walt goes for a series of drives in our immediate area and there is already a few feet of flooding in some lower lying coastal areas...and the storms is still HOURS away at this point. So we know it's going to be bad...no rain, no storm yet...and yet there is tremendous flooding!...uncanny.

 Now, in the town where I live we are on the bayshore, not the ocean...but the ocean is nearby. We are hearing reports that the bay is going to flood worse than the Atlantic, due to smaller dunes and less tidal walls, etc...Compared to the rest of our town we are kinda far inland. So we think that we might get some flooding but nothing outrageous. As the winds kick up and Sandy nears, Walt parks his Jeep in front and settles in with me and Aaron in the livingroom. His bedroom is directly beneath a very big old tree that might come down, so he brings a blowup mattress into the livingroom fearing that his bedroom will be crushed in the night. The three of us are in the livingroom watching the news and discussing what our escape plans will be. We have a second floor...so if it floods we can always go upstairs...with the two chihuahuas and our poor bird. If a tree falls on the house we'll leave immediately. So there I am on Facebook reading so many messages from dear friends living in other places telling me and Aaron to please evacuate. Believe me...I heeded these warnings and appreciated them so much...but where we were seemed relatively safe. At one point...just as I'm about to update on Facebook, the power goes out. Luckily, Walt is an outdoorsman and has a ton of camping equipment. A great radio....and lanterns...and a portable jumpbox to start a car with a dead battery. It's windy and dark and scary...our cell phones are losing bars by the minute. Aaron is actually dosing off on the couch as me and Walt look out the windows. At one point we see the roof on the house across the street completely blow off. Then a giant branch that's nearly the size of a tree lands on our deck completely shaking our whole house. Then, we begin to see water in the street...just a few inches at first...but then it's halfway up Walt's jeep tires...and soon it's coming across our lawn and up our front steps...all within minutes. Walt get's a call from his friend Greg who lives right by the bay. Greg has a truck almost twice as tall as Walts and he says the water was over his hood and came up into his livingroom which is more than five feet off the ground. Greg jumped in his truck carrying his dog and nothing else and fled. The flood overtook his house in seconds. He had actual waves crashing into his backdoor and his house is hundreds of yard from the bay on a normal day! So we figured that the water creeping up our steps was about to double since the dunes behind Greg's house were compromised. Walt ran out to his trusty Jeep and whattaya know...it's dead...but again, he has that jumpstarter thing. He hooks it up under the hood of his jeep at  the height of the storm. He is thigh deep in water in front of our house. He gets the jeep started but has to keep his foot on the gas or else it will stall. This jeep is our only escape so we abandon our plan of fleeing upstairs...because what if a tree comes down on the house after we have gone upstairs?...then who knows what dangers await?...there are hours of storm yet to hit us and high tide has not yet crested. Walt is screaming for us to hurry up. We quickly try to pick up anything that is close to the floor...keep in mind...this is in the pitch dark...we grab speakers...the computer....our original paintings that are on low shelves... We throw a handful of clothes into garbage bags, grab the two chihuahuas, and go out the front door. Stepping off of the front porch into thigh high water is terrifying. It's so so dark and the wind is whipping around like you wouldn't believe. 50 to 70 miles per hour. We wade through the water and climb into the jeep and race off in search of higher ground. For blocks the water is just as deep but then as we get farther inland we finally hit dry pavement. We don't really know where to go at this point. The last time that Aaron spoke to his parents they said that there was no water on their street across town. It seems so hard to believe because they are right on the water. So we drive out of town and then head back in on their side of town...to take the chance. Holy cow...Aaron's parent's house is not flooded at all. They happen to live in the part of town that used to flood many many years ago...until the Army corps of engineers came in and built the floodgates. So, at the height of Sandy, their house has not a puddle even near it. Yes, keep in mind...it barely rained...all this flooding is from a tidal surge.

  We arrive at Aar's parents house all huffing and puffing and wet. It's pitch dark so Aar's dad is shining a flashlight on us wondering who the heck just came speeding into his driveway at 10pm. Again, the cellphones had stopped working at this point...so we couldn't even call ahead to tell them that they were about to shelter us for the night. We strip out of our wet, muddy clothes...that smell like the bay...borrow some sweats and huddle around the radio in the livingroom with Aaron's parents.
  The winds are so so scary. The house shudders with every gust. But they've got a great old Victorian and Aar's dad has sufficiently bolstered it over the years and it feels so so safe in there. We camp out downstairs in sleeping bags fearing that the giant tree in the backyard may crush the upstairs. But later in the night Aaron's hip can't bear the dining room floor any longer, so when the winds have diminished a bit the two of us head upstairs...and we bring our pup Carlos. The strange surroundings and the stress of the storm have our pups, Carlos and Jack, fighting. We lay in bed but do not sleep. It is so so scary and all we can think about is the state of our home that we left behind.

 Tuesday---and the cold dark days that followed. The morning after the storm we awoke safely at Aaron's parent's home. Well, Aaron awoke from a couple hours of sleep...but I didn't sleep a wink. The power is out but Barb, Aar's mom, has got scrambled eggs going on the gas stove. Upon a quick inspection there doesn't seem to be any damage to Aar's parent's house. It's raining but the strong winds of Sandy seem to have passed. At this point we are dreading the notion of returning to our home and finding it destroyed. After breakfast we slip our soaking wet shoes back on, get in the jeep, and make the five minute trip across town to go check out our home. Most roads are still flooded so we can't yet take a ride around our small town to survey the overall damage. But even in this very short trip it's unbelievable how much destruction we pass by. Houses are under water, hundreds of trees are down, dozens of utility poles are fallen over or darn close to it...the town is a mess.

Our yard is loaded with yucky mud and fallen branches. The lawn has eroded away almost completely. We've got pieces of the roof from across the street strewn all over. Our garbage cans are gone. My brother Walt's prized 1987 Firebird is immersed in water...the entire interior is wrecked and he guts it later in the week. When we enter our house we are first hit with the smell of gross flood water. It smells like a very fishy, mucky, low tide. The flood waters have receded from our property but we've still got some standing water throughout the first floor of our house...yes, the water came in. We dreaded it, and it happened. Luckily it didn't get too deep and it didn't fill the entire floor plan. It kind of made a small stream from the front door to the back door...through the living room, the dining room, the kitchen...and it branched out into our studio space, and as my luck would have it, the deepest part of this indoor stream ended up in my closet! Yeah, our bedroom is still the temporary one on the ground floor, and my little closet that's full of my clothes and jewelry, and purses, and shoes, and family photos, picture boxes, gifts and keepsakes...well, all of that stuff is in a pool of dirty, stinky, water from the bay. We start mopping it up and we instantly know that all of the wood floors will have to be ripped out and replaced, as well as the carpet in our little bedroom. There were some amazing graces...the water dodged our couch somehow! We believe Walt's air mattress had something to do with this. It was placed right inside of our front door and it diverted the flood water just ever so slightly enough that the little indoor river went around our couch without touching it! And the same goes for a bunch of our artwork that was in a box on the floor of our studio...the water encircled the box but never touched the cardboard box.

It was early yet, but we knew we had to clean all this mess up like whirling dervishes before sunset. The power was out and we'd be enveloped in black soon (and for the next week! But we didn't know that then.) We couldn't yet get a full grasp on the damage to our home (and we still don't really know now) but we knew that whatever the damage was it was nothing compared to some of our neighbors and fellow New Jerseyans. We were lucky. Sure, our central air conditioning unit outside was immersed in the flood waters and destroyed. The rain poured through a big hole in our laundry room ceiling. Our floors are all destroyed. The mold and the muck stench will get worse and worse by the day. Part of our siding and gutters are ripped off the exterior of the house. In our crawl space there is a swamp and all of the insulation is drenched and has fallen down into the swamp...all sorts of stuff...but we are blessed because our home still stands. We can still shut the door and go to bed here. Many many people right here in our little town do not have this luxury. Their homes are GONE.

One of many houses that was ripped apart by the winds of Sandy.

At the height of the storm cars were completely immersed in water, and some, like this one, exploded and burned to crisp.

The winds ripped entire walls from houses. Hundreds of houses, all within a couple miles from our home.

The cleanup effort. This sand was swept into town by the surge. In some spots the sand reached as far as six blocks inland.

My Nana's summer bungalow is the white one on the far left. The whole front porch came off. You can clearly see the water line there on the yellow house. Minutes before I took this pic that man sitting in the chair had found jumbo shrimp flopping around on his livingroom floor.

The entire contents of my Nana's summer house. Ripped out and put on the street in the days after the storm. She has owned this house since the 1950's.

So, this was Tuesday. We were exhausted after the long day of cleaning...just the tip of the iceberg of the cleaning that we'd be doing for the rest of the week...and the rest of this year for that matter. When night fell we too fell...and slept like weary, muddy dogs in the cold dampness of our home.
The rest of the week was more of the same...but even in all this chaos we did manage to get ourselves into a bit of a pattern. In the morning me and Aaron toured our little town on foot. Every single morning we walked just about every street in town. There were lots of tears...shed by us and by those who we observed. We went and found where the bay breached the dunes on the beach. The spot was nearly a quarter mile from our house and the waters still managed to reach into our living room. The area of town where the breach occurred is one of the older parts of town. This was originally a summer town really...full of tiny beach bungalows. My Nana's summer bungalow was pretty much a half a block away from the breach in the dunes. She's owned it since the 1950's and now after all that time, it got wrecked, completely underwater and gutted. The friend of my brother Walt who I mentioned earlier, Greg...well we saw his hot tub had floated two blocks away from his house. There were cars and boats that floated around all over like they were toys...perched on top of fences and steps and front lawns.

A pile of amusement park debris. That's a little jeep from a kiddie park ride.

A pile of amusement park wreckage. Video games and fixtures from an ice cream stand.

Beyond that guardrail you can see a rooftop that is now sitting on the pavement. The building that was once below that rooftop is now completely gone. It housed everyone's favorite summer pizza place and a legendary French Fry stand.

The kiddie park section of the amusement park. Every single ride is totally destroyed.

The old carousel was completely destroyed.

There were prizes from the amusement park stands strewn all over town.

One of the famous bumper cars. This one floated about five or six blocks inland.

I just got so sad when I saw machines like this one that floated all the way across town and were then busted open by looters.

All over town there were vending machines. They floated for blocks and blocks. And in the days after the storm every single one was broken into and the contents were looted.

These video games and other contents from an arcade floated maybe a dozen blocks through town.

These bungalows were decimated by the tidal surge. Where you see sand there used to be a parking lot believe it or not.

In our town we have an amusement park...and it this was probably the most dramatic source of the images we'd see from the Sandy's aftermath. Arcade games, vending machines, skee ball games, prizes, ride tickets, all sorts of fun signs, bumper cars, video games galore, parts of rides...all the stuff that makes up your average boardwalk/amusement park...these things ended up all over town. Things that you'd never think could float, floated far and wide...a quarter mile...a half mile maybe. So many memories...really, the entire amusement park is gone. Aaron lived in this town since birth...we have a whole lot of history here.

Ok, I know I said that I didn't want this post to be an epic...and that is precisely what it is at this point. Let me try to speed things up. The following days really did just melt together. Without electricity the world can be a tough place...now add in the fact that all of our surroundings are flooded...it's so cold, outdoors and indoors...we are dirty, we can't wash our clothes...we are in the same wet muddy socks for days...all of our shoes are soaked and caked with mud...and the mud stinks...the whole town stinks...it's fishy and smells like dead animals...the food in our fridge is going bad...even if your car is working you won't able to get gas...and night time is scary. It's so so dark and there is a curfew...police are everywhere and there are rumors of looting...rumors of break-ins and people stealing other people's generators. And it's all so so sad and depressing. Your thoughts keep going to all the devastation that you've seen...the displaced, homeless families who lost every single thing that they own...every shred of their belongings are gone.

Our poor little Jack. A few days after the storm. Amid the cold blackout, he couldn't eat or drink, and he temporarily lost the use of his legs...for almost three straight days.

All over town there are basements being pumped out...if one is lucky enough to have a pump. Anyone who can access their wrecked home is removing all of the contents and putting them in piles out by the street. The municipal work teams are working round the clock with tractors trying to put the sand back up on the beach where it belongs, and trying to pump the bay water back into the bay. When night fell we turned on our trusty radio to hear the news about the rest of the state...trying to find out how relatives in other towns made out. The battery powered radio was all we had. Our cell phone didn't work, nobody's cell phone worked for a couple of days. We felt so isolated...in the dark...figuratively and literally. We were scared that we'd need help and that we wouldn't be able to get it. This notion came to mind when our adorable little chihuahua Jack all of the sudden could not walk or even stand. We'd prop him up and his legs would go limp. We couldn't get him to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom. We'd take him outside, prop him up next to the bush, hoping he'd tinkle, and then he'd just wimper and flop down into the mud. It went on for two plus days. The only water that passed his lips was from my finger tips...he wouldn't drink so I would sorta wipe water into his mouth, wetting his gums and tongue.We were a bit scared, but we suspected that it could be mental. Jack is a worrier and a week in cold darkness had freaked him out. We think it manifested physically. This ordeal with Jack miraculously ended finally today...pretty much when the electric came back on. We took him outside and he walked and relieved himself...we took him inside and he ate and drank.

Fast Forward to this Tuesday---Today. Here I sit, frantically typing this blog post...hoping that the power stays on...and if it doesn't...well then at least I'll have filled you guys in on what happened to us this week. I disappeared from the internet over a week ago without a word or a whisper. I am so so happy to be back in front of this screen and to have discovered the hundreds of emails and facebook messages from you guys...your concern for our well being has tears streaming down my face and Aaron's. We are so so appreciative of you guys!

In the couple of days after the storm I tried to take as many photos as I could around my little town. You can see a few of them here in this post. It's almost impossible to convey the full extent of the damage that Sandy has done to this state that I love so much...and this region of the state in particular...The Jersey Shore. The geography has actually changed...where once there was land, there isn't any longer. Whole towns are gone. Towns down the shore that had homes that Aaron and I painted murals in...huge beautiful homes filled with hand painted furniture of ours...they are all gone. It's heartbreaking. The entire boardwalk down in Seaside Heights now sits in the Atlantic ocean. And again, as bad as it is...I can only feel lucky. We lost so much less than many many souls. My heart goes out to them and I feel deeply for their losses. Amid all of this chaos and despair I have witnessed so so much goodwill and charity and kindness. People have really stepped up as neighbors, as fellow New Jerseyans, fellow humans. Every day I have been amazed by what people are doing for other people. I have yet to explore any farther than my little town really. It's been too hard to travel. And with the power being out...even though being home is miserable...you don't want to leave your home. Yeah, I know, people have been amazing...but there are still a few rotten apples out there that are looting and robbing...the world is far from perfect.

We're graciously asking for your help!

So now it's time to clean up and rebuild. Me and Aaron are hard at work already, getting the studio in order, laying out supplies, and we can't wait to start creating. We are flush with inspiration. For the very first time we are humbly asking for any possible help that you guys could send our way. This storm has put us in a hole financially...the depth of which I do not know the extent yet. We've put in calls to the insurance and fema but we know that whatever help they could offer couldn't possibly be sufficient. So in an attempt to start to get us back on track we are having a sale...everything in our store is 20% off...use sale code: XONEWJERSEY.

We really do need any bit of help you can send our way. Start your holiday shopping, or pick up something for yourself...whatever the occasion may be. We appreciate you guys so so much and it warms our hearts to know that you are there and that you care. I really should end this post...how many times have you refilled your cup of coffee in reading this?! Again, Thank you so so so much! And as always...
Love from the Jersey Shore!
xo, Jenny...and Aaron

Aaron standing by where a dune used to be. There should be a smooth rolling hill of sand there. You can see that the water rose over six feet in this spot.

This house, like countless others, had upwards of four feet of water inside.

We saw messages like this all over town.

The tidal surge ripped the exterior wall off of this home. You are actually seeing the inside hallway of this house. There used to be a paved parking lot and grassy yard where that sand and tidal pool now sit. See those trees in the background? The bay is about a hundred yards beyond those trees...and the water rose up so far that only the rooftop of this house crested above the surge.