Selden mom: 'Divine protection' saved me from Sandy

A photo provided by the Ripke family showing A photo provided by the Ripke family showing the large tree that fell on the house and crushed the garage where Linda Ripke ran to seeking shelter from the storm. (Nov. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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What Linda Ripke calls her "divine protection" was a motley group of things crammed in the garage of her Selden home: a metal stepladder, a patio table topped with a stack of three chairs and a couple of bikes.

Together, that odd assortment kept her from being crushed when a massive oak tree crashed onto the garage's roof, pancaking it, during superstorm Sandy's assault on Long Island.

"People say, 'You're lucky to be alive,' " Ripke said. "That sounds like a cliche. The more you think about it, I was in the worst spot. But on the other hand, I was in a good spot."

Ripke, 49, took refuge in the garage while trying to help her husband, Rich, break down a collapsible shed that was being buffeted by Sandy's fierce winds. The couple had feared parts of the shed would become dangerous projectiles.

The garage, attached to one side of their home, was left a mangled mess -- the roof caved in and wooden ceiling beams on the floor. Only the front section, where the door was opened earlier that storm-tossed evening, had not toppled to the ground by Friday. The patio chairs and bikes were still there, holding up a portion of the garage door.

That was the spot where Ripke was standing.

Ripke, a parishioner at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Selden, thought for a moment after describing the harrowing event and agreed divine intervention was at work.

"I always think I have divine protection," she said. "Every day, no matter what the circumstances are, that's how I feel."

Ripke, a hospital lab technologist, and her daughter Michelle, 16, recalled how she joined her husband about 5:45 p.m. Monday to break down the 8-by-8-foot rubber shed that "fits together like a puzzle."

Said Rich Ripke: "I thought it was going to fly across the street and hit Gary's house or Ron's house and kill somebody," referring to neighbors.

"My husband came out, and he was trying to bash it down and I was standing over here and trying to crush it, too," Linda Ripke said. The winds started picking up.

Rich Ripke, 50, a sorting machine mechanic for the U.S. Postal Service, said the wind was so strong it was pushing him to the ground. Seeing the oak near the garage starting to give way, he ran around the back of the house for cover.

The wind frightened her, Linda Ripke said, so she ran into the garage.

"I was thinking as soon as this gust goes by, I'm going to run into the house," she said. "And then I just heard the tree come down: Boom! boom! boom! And I was like, 'Oh, my God. I'm in the garage and the tree just hit the garage.' "

Meanwhile, Michelle, an 11th-grader at Newfield High School, was in the house -- and anxious.

"It sounded like the house was coming down," Michelle said. That sent her running to the back door, where she ran into her father.

"He was like, 'Is Mom inside?' I said, 'No, I thought she was out there with you,' " the daughter said. "And he was like, 'Oh no. Oh no.' "

When he saw the garage, Rich Ripke said, "I thought she was hurt bad."

Inside the garage, the tree's branches had landed right in front of Linda, as she stood with her back to the garage door. She recalled screaming.

Her husband said he heard " 'Help me, help me! I've got my cellphone out and I'm ready to call 911.' "

It wasn't necessary. Linda Ripke said she crawled out over the branches, and she and her husband hurried inside the house.

On Friday, showing where she had been standing, Ripke pointed to the right side of the garage door.

"There was a red ladder standing here," she said. The tree hit the top rung of that ladder, which, she said, "held that tree up. It gave me protection."

"You know how you hear about people getting killed out in storms?" Rich Ripke said. "We were just doing something to prevent bad things from happening. We weren't being stupid. We were just trying to do the right thing."

And the fate of the once-mighty oak? It has been sawed into sections and stacked in front of the house.

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