Wantagh Weathers Two Storms

Lindsey Cohen and Lindsey Cohen

Sandy was the worst storm to hit Long Island in 74 years. Residents suffered from power losses, downed trees, 3-hour gas lines and unimaginable flooding. For many locals, the unthinkable became a nightmare. Wantagh inhabitants lacked heat or power for up to two weeks, starting on October 29, when Sandy struck. A few Wantagh homes didn’t lose power but 90 percent of Long Islanders did. Huge 50-year-old trees were toppled by 70 m.p.h. sustained winds from a tropical storm that had been downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane.

“I looked outside my window,” says Zoe Lipman, a W.H.S. senior and Mandalay resident. “And all I could see was water. Four feet of it. It began flooding into my first floor and then into my basement. I ended up with five feet in my basement and about a foot on my first floor.

“We lost our entire basement and all of our first floor furniture. My family lost all 3 cars. We lost family photo albums and old dance videos. All personal belongings that unlike a house or car, cannot be replaced. It was surreal. It was heartbreaking. I know that there are many families worse off than us and I’m thankful the damage wasn’t worse.”

New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey Shore are in economic turmoil after the “reign” of Hurricane Sandy. Wantagh’s beloved Jones Beach was severly damaged, including the outdoor theater there. The damage done to the boardwalk alone cannot compare to any recent storm. Many residents anticipated this type of damage from Hurricane Irene, August 2011. We didn’t take a direct hit. Of course power lines and trees went down and basements flooded but this didn’t compare to the wrath of Sandy. A select few were fortunate enough to escape the storm without damage or a power outage; the majority of those in Wantagh were not as lucky.

“People are jealous that I only lost power for an hour during Sandy,” said junior Dan Parker. “But during Irene, I lost it for 20 days.”

The suffering continued with a November 8-blizzard Nor’easter. Some who’d just had power restored lost it again. And at the same time, even those who lost power didn’t lose nearly as much as others did: Jewelry. Clothing. Docks. Boats. Cars. Homes. Pictures. Pictures and memories that cannot be replaced.

In this community, the Mandalay area suffered the most damage. Most of the residents were told to evacuate. “My first thoughts were to save my shoes and my books,” said freshman Skylar Klein. “We got power back relatively quickly compared to others in the area. But the flooding was very destructive. The water that rushed into my house destroyed the first floor.”

To see water rising right before your eyes and to have no idea when it will stop is a helpless feeling as freshman Jessica Giacone described: “The water just kept seeping through; it kept rising faster and faster.” During Hurricane Katrina of 2005, almost 2,000 lives were lost in the Gulf States of Mississippi and Louisiana. We watched on television as 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged. Who expected flooding like this here? Luckily, there were no deaths in Wantagh, but 43 people died in New York, and 113 in total. The damages that have been assessed for New York alone stand at around $50 billion. That figure will rise. Katrina did $145 billion worth of damage.

The flooding was the most damaging whereas the power outages were most distressing to many residents. Weeks went by and some lived in the dark. “I saw power trucks on my block,” said Beech Street resident, Mike Sarlo. “Even my neighbors got their power back, and after 12 days, I finally saw the light.” Senior Sam Magnes’ father works for National Grid, which manages LIPA, and the comments from the community about how much LIPA “sucks” were hurtful.

“I’ve been living at home alone for two weeks because my dad has been working non-stop,” Magnes said. “And I probably wont see him for another week. He’s working 16-hour days and is away from my family just like many utility workers.”

Before the odd-even gas rationing system was put into place, the lines were of out-of-control. People waited hours, some even waking up at 3 A.M. to get a decent spot on line. Senior Christina Tramantana waited “two and a half really, really frustrating hours” in desperation for gas. “I got on line at 5 A.M. in hopes of beating the crowds to the station,” said senior Vinny Turano. “I was at a complete stop for hours and then I waited another three just to fill up my gas tank…one of the worst experiences of my life.”

While life in Wantagh slowly returns to normal, 160,000 people in 10 states were still without power 15 days after Sandy struck.