Hurricane Sandy: M Dawn Reports

When Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean we hardly noticed. She was just a blip on the world radar, a ten second blurb on the evening news. She was a tropical storm then, meandering up the coast, traveling at a mere thirteen miles per hour.

Late last week, our newscaster pulled us in to look at Sandy as she continued to move slowly up the east coast. “She’s going to hit the warm gulfstream,” he said. “She’s going to strengthen and may become a hurricane again.”

We closed on our Ocean Blvd. Chincoteague property September sixth. Our honeymoon was still in its full phase. “Who ever heard of a hurricane this late in the season,” I said. “It’s too cold. She won’t get above a category one.” No worries.

Unfortunately, Sandy kept coming, getting stronger, closer to the coast and took a turn just north of the Eastern Shore during a full moon high tide. Our honeymoon was over. Sandy pounded Chincoteague and we waited, five hours away, with every disaster scenario running through our heads.

We scrolled the internet scanning for photographs, any news from new-found facebook friends who live on the island, bulletins from the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce, and constant monitoring of the Weather Channel online. Three alerts, four alerts, five alerts, coastal flooding, general flooding, high wind warning, VDOT bulletin, Causeway closed, no way out, water three feet high and rising, no good news.

When Irene came up the coast, we had a half acre lot with no structure other than a floating dock. It didn’t matter how high the tide was, how much rain came, whether the wind blew. We drove down in plenty of time to anchor the dock as best as we could and left, shrugging our shoulders, leaving the rest to fate. This was different. We owned Melva’s place now and carried a mortgage. We’d fallen in love with a cute little house. It had character and shutters. Sure we had insurance, but the thought of trees falling through the roof, if the roof was still there, or water cascading into the living room through the front door scared us worse than any Halloween horror movie we had ever watched. “Frankenstorm,” they called Sandy, a real horror unfolding right before our eyes and ears.

“Anymore news from Martha Jane?” Bruce asked late Monday evening. We’d met Martha Jane during a visit to Chincoteague some time ago. Her husband Kefford is a waterman and decoy carver.

“No, not yet. She said in her last posting on facebook, they were anchoring their boats and moving the truck to higher ground,” I said.

“High tide’s in two hours,” Bruce reminded me. “And it’s rained hard all day. I’m afraid it’s worse than the pictures the realty office posted this morning.”

Those pictures were bad. Water covered all the streets and some roads were completely impassible. The National Guard was rescuing people from the southern end of the island. Their trucks blocked the Causeway into the island. Thirty-five hundred of the four thousand year-round residents remained on the island, hunkered down, waiting Sandy out. They weren’t frightened, and if they were, they made the decision to stay the course as water people often do. Obviously, I’m a mountain girl. I was five hours away and terrified.

“If Melva’s makes it through this high tide,” Bruce said, “the water will recede. Once the storm made landfall, it started falling apart and we’re at the southern edge of the storm, so the surge won’t be as bad as it could be if we were on the northern edge.”

I’m glad he knew this stuff. All I could imagine was ocean meeting bay and the whole thing being deluged by buckets of rain. What I saw was Melva’s place swamped, pulled off its moorings, and drifting out to sea, carrying my collection of two carved decoys with it.

Here at home the wind picked up and the Weather Channel posted three notices for us, high winds, VDOT road closings, and a blizzard warning. A Blizzard Warning? What in the world was this storm coming to? But was I worried about conditions out my window? No, I lost a whole night’s sleep worrying about Ocean Blvd. Bruce snored, and snored, rolled over and snored some more. I finally got up and fixed a cup of coffee, waiting for sunrise, waiting for word.

Bruce left the house at nine o’clock this morning after eating his bacon, egg and cheese bagel. He put his large chain saw and some tarps into the truck, and kissed me goodbye. He told me he’d call as soon as he got there. I’d have gone, but I have to work tomorrow. I have no more vacation time. I sat and waited, biting my fingernails.

I called his cell phone at 2:11 pm, not being able to wait any longer, needing to know where he was.

“I just crossed Mosquito Creek,” he said as he drove over the Causeway. He was less than four miles from the island. As he drove he counted out loud to me the number of billboards blown down, told me what kinds of debris he saw on the bridge. He measured by sight how much higher the water was than usual. My heart rate rose, and my blood pressure too.

“I’ll call you as soon as I get to the house,” he said, hanging up the phone.

It was the longest seven minutes I could remember in a long time.

“Yeah,” I said, punching the talk button as soon as the phone lit up.

“Looks good,” he said. “No damage to the house. I don’t even think the water rose above the sidewalk. We must be on higher ground. I think Melva picked a good spot. She and Bill were smart.”

I should have trusted Melva, someone who lived on the island her whole life, one of those people who weathered storms and stuck it out. “Teaguers,” they’re called.

I’m going to be one of those “Teagurers” one day, but as for now, I exhaled the breath I had been holding, thanked my husband for making the trip, hung up the phone, took a long hot bath, and went to bed.

 

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