I hate the smell of Hurricane Sandy. It’s the smell of decay.
I first noticed the odor the day after the storm struck on Oct. 29. I was surveying the damage to my front lawn. I found a clay frog statue, washed from a neighbor’s yard, buried amid a pile of broken branches that had collected beside my boxwood hedge. The smell hit me at that moment –– seawater mixed with what I believed was creosote.
The next morning, a neighbor told me that her furnace had leaked heating oil when floodwaters breached her home and spread throughout the house and down her block. She could no longer live in her home because of the oil. She took her family to her mother’s house in North Merrick, unsure of when she might return.
Later that day, I walked three miles to a car rental business in Bellmore –– we lost both of our Subarus in the Great Flood. Along the way, I noticed heating oil dripping out of home after home, shop after shop. It coated the sidewalks and spilled into the street, slowly snaking into the storm drains. I realized that I hadn’t smelled creosote, but heating oil. The odor suffused the air wherever I turned. I understood then the extent, the depth, of the damage. Sandy had rendered thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people homeless. Call them weather refugees, if you will.
My family was fortunate. We heat our home with natural gas. We could stay in our house. But the next three weeks challenged us beyond our imagination.
Floodwaters inundated our family room, laundry room, crawl space and garage, bringing chaos where previously there was order. We were in the dark for 10 days. We had no heat when temperatures plunged into the 30s at night. The temperature inside our home dropped to 50.
We bundled up in robes and coats and layers of blankets to sleep at night. Days were spent sifting through our soaked family-room belongings, seeking any minor item that might be salvaged. Everything went into the garbage –– note-covered textbooks that I use to teach at Hofstra; my wife’s collection of This Old House magazines, used to design the rooms that Sandy wrecked in a matter of hours; the hammers and saws I used to install the moldings that Sandy destroyed; and our treadmill, which we loved.