Matt Cohen and Lisa Seymour knew it could be a risk to set their wedding date and location for the tail-end of hurricane season in the Bahamas.
But that was where they fell in love, Cohen said, and they couldn’t get married anywhere else.
From their waterfront apartment in Long Beach, they held their breath and hoped for the best as Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the Caribbean. On Oct. 27, Cohen got a call from their wedding planner -- the picturesque pier where they were to be married was damaged in the storm.
Seymour cried, but they thought that would be the worst of it, and told all 110 of their guests they were continuing with the plan.
“We were worried about the Bahamas,” said Cohen, 40, a pediatrician with a 5-year-old practice in Long Beach. “We weren’t worried about us.”
The couple evacuated Long Beach for Tropical Storm Irene last year and ended up in a more dangerous location. At Cohen’s brother’s house in Old Westbury, fallen trees blocked them from leaving his street, wires were down, and they didn’t feel safe. Long Beach was fine.
For Sandy, they decided to stay.
“If you could have told me a place we could go that would have been guaranteed to be safer,” Cohen said, “we would have went. But you couldn’t. It was going to hit everywhere.”
And still, as they walked along the boardwalk on Monday afternoon as Sandy approached , they never expected what was to come.
As darkness fell, conditions worsened. The wind roared and water breached the boardwalk. Around 7 or 8 p.m. their building lost power and neighbors wandered the halls with flashlights trying to quiet the ear-piercing fire alarms that sounded incessantly on each floor.
Glass walls by their elevator offered a look down into the building’s atrium, where water poured into the lobby and eventually, a wall collapsed. Outside Cohen and Seymour’s second-floor balcony, water rushed by like a river.
“It was a horrific experience,” said Seymour, 32, and a teacher at the Hempstead School District’s Helping Youth Pursue Excellence Academy.
As soon as the sun came up and the water receded, they decided to retreat to Seymour’s parents’ house in Kings Park.
The elevators were out in their Long Beach apartment, but there was an emergency staircase that they could manage to climb down. But that staircase was filthy with debris and mud, and they had one very special piece of cargo -- Lisa’s wedding dress.
“I could not safely take it down those stairs,” she said, so instead, she found a resistance band in their apartment, tied it to the garment bag that held her dress and lowered the dress from their balcony to Cohen, who waited to catch it below.
They quickly moved on.
“I’m very much a pragmatist,” Cohen said. “I don’t worry a lot. I see one problem, I address that, then you move on to the next one.”
Cohen continued to tackle problems as they arose. After two flights to the Bahamas were canceled, they finally realized their Nov. 3 wedding -- the Saturday after the storm -- was not going to happen, and they postponed it.
But still, there wasn’t time to dwell, especially when Cohen quickly realized there were other people with bigger problems than his own. On the Thursday after the storm, Cohen stopped by Long Beach City Hall, where a firefighter asked if Cohen could join the medical team the city set up in its old trolley car. Cohen agreed, and spent the majority of the next three days volunteering.
On Saturday, the day they were to be married, Seymour was there to help him.
They both said they thought little of what they were missing at the time. There was still too much to do -- on top of volunteering for the city, Cohen was desperately trying to find a temporary location for his practice because the Long Beach office building he designed himself had been destroyed. They also needed a temporary home. Eventually, they found both in Rockville Centre. On Nov. 9, he signed a lease for his office space; by Monday morning, he was seeing patients.
Walter Seymour, Lisa Seymour’s father, called their story “unbelievable,” and their resilience even more so.
“They don’t have a place to live, Matt doesn’t have a place to work, and they are down there at town hall helping people,” he said. “And in the middle of all that, you’re living with your in-laws when you’re supposed to be married. It’s pretty admirable.”
Lisa Seymour said everything went so quickly, she never had time to dwell on missing her wedding or losing her home. But weeks later, as she recounts the experience, she starts to cry.
“We were just about to begin our new life together,” she said. “We had so many hopes and ambitions for this next year. When I look at the last couple of weeks, I forget how I got from point A to point B.”
Cohen said the last couple of weeks went by in phases of tragedy and setback, but the phase they’re in now is one of realization: that it actually happened.
“This part is not as physically demanding,” he started to explain.
“It’s worse,” Seymour finished.
But they see a silver lining. They rescheduled their wedding for May 11, 2013, and have been assured the pier should be rebuilt. And despite catching it from the balcony, Cohen has still not seen Seymour’s wedding dress.
“That was not allowed,” he said, and even superstorm Sandy could not change that.