Saturday, January 12, 2013

Norm in The Wave: What Were We Thinking, Part 3: Nobody said anything about fire

Sandy Diaries

Part 1: What Were We Thinking? Day of Sandy, 7 AM-4:30 PM
Part 2: What Were We Thinking: Living in the middle of an ocean, 4:30-9PM.

What Were We Thinking, Part 3: Nobody said anything about fire
By Norm Scott
Published in The Wave, Friday, Jan. 11, 2013,

The last I left you in my chronicle of October 29 we were hitting high tide at around 9PM as water was lapping inches from the front and back doors which are about five feet high as I raced from one end of the house to the other hoping the rate of rise was slowing enough to stop short of our main living area. As we found out over the next few days the determining issue of being able to live in your house pretty much depended on this factor. But the creepiest thing of all was opening the door to the den and seeing an ocean in the house just inches below the top step. Just two hours before I had gone down into that muck twice when it was only calf and then thigh high. Now if I went down there it would be almost neck high.

Well, there was no time to watch the water come up as we raced around moving what we could upstairs to the bedrooms. Oh, and we put towels and whatever else we had at the 3 possible water entry points. Given that the water in the basement under our main living area ended up reaching within 3 inches of the under floor it dawned on me days after the storm that water would have bubbled up from the entire floor. I shudder just thinking of what we would have done at that point, especially when we began to smell smoke from what seemed to be an electrical fire coming from the back of the house.

That was the first moment of panic. That something downstairs or in the walls was burning. The house was surrounded by 5 feet of water, we had 2 cats and the very idea of trying to get out – and go where? - seemed impossible. (The next day we found out many friends had done just that.) We looked at each other and said almost simultaneously: if we had thought about the possibility of fire we would have evacuated. I still wonder that with all the warnings being issued the fire possibility was never raised. We made a pact: next time we leave. If we survive this time. We both apologized to the cats for “rescuing” them one a kitten from a few blocks away whose entire family managed to survive the storm. (We will have to perfect our tree climbing abilities.)

For the next half hour we kept sniffing trying to find where the smell might be coming from and if it was getting stronger. Finally, I went to the back door and opened it and the smell was much stronger, a good sign for us, but not for so many others. 130th Street, 4 blocks away, was burning, which we didn’t find out about until the next day. We never saw the flames as so many others did who left their homes to get to safer ones, fearing the fire would spread as it did in Breezy. I guess not seeing the flames was a lucky break. And another lucky break: the water was no longer coming up, having stopped just short of the top step.

We went from panic to euphoria. We weren’t going to die and the house would be relatively safe. We watched as the water began to slowly go down. Within an hour it was down 2 steps. We broke out the bloody marys to toast our luck. It was around 11PM.

With no heat, light, hot water, a house half full of water and knowing we were in for  a long recovery – at least a few days without electricity (ha, ha)  - and how lucky we had the ice chest with some food and a supply of wine. But we were in our house, not stranded somewhere else with the possibility of not being able to get back for a few days and actually looking forward to tackling the big job of cleaning up in the morning. “Wait until the morning tide before we start,” I said, thinking about radio reports warning the water might come back.

We went to sleep about 1AM with the water down another two steps in a weird sense excited at our relative luck. “Oh, crap, both cars are probably shot,” I said. “Where are we going to go?” my wife said. “We’ll rent a car.” Even the thought that my brand new 4 month Honda CRV was done for did not dampen my mood and I fell into a deep sleep. At around 2:30AM when my wife woke me up. “Don’t you think you should take a shower since you were down in the den in that muck?” She was right. My legs were sort of itchy. So at 2:30, in a dark cold bathroom I found myself taking an ice cold shower, my euphoria more than a bit dampened.
Norm blogged about many of his Sandy experiences, in addition to the usual education crap which he will return to writing about after he gets the Sandy stuff out of his system, at

No comments: