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Poetry helps Sandy survivor cope

Damage done by superstorm Sandy across the LIRR

Damage done by superstorm Sandy across the LIRR tracks from Island Park on Barnum Island (Nov. 1, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Heather Muir, a lifelong Lindenhurst resident, reached for pencil and paper when the lights went out last Monday.

It was her way of trying to cope with superstorm Sandy, which Muir, 28, worried might change everything.

"Early morning I left my house on a Block Behind the Bay

Praying for a miracle that it will be there the next day . . . "

When she wrote those words, Muir and her family were safe, staying nearby with an aunt whose home was on higher ground.

They'd left East Seacrest Avenue earlier, wisely heeding evacuation warnings blasted from fire trucks wending through the East Neptune neighborhood.

But first they'd moved their pet guinea pigs, Mimi and Reeses, to the second from the first floor. Still, Muir found it difficult to sleep as she worried about rising waters and wild, lashing winds.

"The last thought of the night was what waited in the morning

And the last thing I heard was the rattling of awning . . . "

On Tuesday, Muir took off to see whether her nighttime fears had been founded. She drove toward the family home, but she had to walk the last mile south past Montauk Avenue because authorities would not let cars come through.

"I saw chaos," Muir said in an interview. "I saw things I have never seen before."

On the way to the house -- which she would visit Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to salvage what she could -- Muir said she saw members of the National Guard.

She said she saw lawn signs, "You Loot, I Shoot."

She said she saw neighbors digging, trying to save what they could from homes that had been flooded.

She saw gawkers. "They made me angry," Muir said. "Because it was like they were driving around sightseeing, and they weren't helping people who needed help."

And what of her home, a Block Behind the Bay? "The first floor is destroyed," she said. Muir, who has a BA in psychology, was living with her parents while she went back to school.

Her room and one of her brothers' rooms was on the first floor, along with the family's den, living room and kitchen. "The stove, gone. The refrigerator, gone," she said. "It's terrible, it's a mess."

Muir managed, among other things, to get needed medication, some clothing, schoolwork and a $200 textbook that she's still trying to dry out.

Mimi and Reeses are safe, too. But -- like so many Long Islanders -- Muir's lost things she cannot replace.

"I kept all my birthday cards," she said. "I've lost them now, from grandparents and great grandparents and I can't get back something like that."

Muir considers herself lucky because, thanks to her aunt, the family -- unlike so many others displaced by Sandy -- has a temporary place to stay.

Muir's poem began during Sandy's wrath and ended Tuesday morning, before she left to find out what had happened to her childhood home.

But even then, Muir seemed to be preparing herself for what she -- and so many other Long Islanders -- would find.

"This should be a reminder . . . what we have we borrow . . .

and what's [here] today may not be here tomorrow."

Still, Muir believes that her parents -- like many others -- will rebuild and return to East Seacrest Avenue.

But Muir says she's uncertain what she will do. "I'm up in the air, as much as I love water," she said.

Until superstorm Sandy, Muir believed blackouts were the worst that could happen. "My parents always talked about Gloria, that was the standard," she said.

Muir was an infant who with her mother stayed with relatives during that 1985 hurricane. Muir said her parents' house lost power for nine days but did not flood.

"I'm still trying to sort through my feelings about this whole experience," Muir said. "I've seen what a storm can do."

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