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After Sandy, exhausted but hopeful on New Year’s Eve

Neome and Mal Cooper of Lido Beach take

Neome and Mal Cooper of Lido Beach take refuge at a family member's home in neighboring Long Beach after superstorm Sandy devastated the barrier island in October 2012. Credit: Chuck Bernklau

My wife and I took a walk around our neighborhood in Lido Beach this past summer and took stock of houses being lifted to new heights even five years after the destructive flooding of superstorm Sandy. We have not found the energy or determination to consider raising our very vulnerable one-story ranch house.

As Sandy approached in late October 2012, Neome and I had decided to stay put in our home despite ominous weather reports. We were located a full block from the beach behind the imposing Lido Beach Towers condos.

Our daughters were not so optimistic. A son-in-law was dispatched to “rescue” us. He drove us to their two-story house in nearby Long Beach, with its high entrance steps above the street. We sat at a living room window watching and waiting. The street was quiet, but then the flooding was swift. Suddenly, a car in the driveway started beeping incessantly, its hood and then trunk flinging open with a grinding metallic crunch — apparently a reaction set off by water hitting their computers.

The street was flooded almost knee deep. Neighbors waded across the road with their dog and a few essentials. The horizon lit up with flashing lights from exploding electrical transformers.

After the storm, neighbors, friends, relatives and strangers helped one another. All of the barrier island residents were trapped — no cars, potable water, electricity, heat or flushable toilets. One neighbor brought us a six-pound roast.

After a few difficult days, my wife and I took a taxi to Kennedy Airport to escape to south Florida. Our daughters supervised a contractor hired to replace our roof, walls, floors, kitchen, living room and bedrooms in Lido Beach. We grew increasingly anxious about the long-distance decision-making and decided after two months to come home.

On Dec. 31, 2012, we flew back. Our home was still uninhabitable, so we checked in at the partially restored Allegria Hotel in Long Beach — barely caring or remembering that it was New Year’s Eve. We walked on wobbly wooden planks inside the hotel, along a narrow passage illuminated by naked bulbs dangling from nails and strung along blue tarp coverings.

We were guided to a large, padded service elevator behind the kitchen. It quickly filled with enthusiastic young couples heading for the rooftop New Year’s Eve celebration.

We were a sight! I was unshaven, with a scruffy grey beard, unkempt hair, baggy dungarees and a floppy flannel shirt. My usually fashionably dressed spouse mirrored my disheveled appearance. The other couples in the elevator were in party mode, the young women in gorgeous gowns and accompanied by well-dressed escorts. The young people gave us no more than a casual glance.

What a contrasting picture the elevator scene made: optimistic young people enjoying life, and older people determined to survive.

Crowded into the crush of celebrants, we were carried up to the ninth-floor ballroom and the bright lights and music. We held onto each other tightly and walked past the dance floor to the panoramic windows facing a city darkened by vacant homes. Debris still littered some properties. We wished for a happier new year, for a reconstructed Long Beach.

Then the elevator carried us down to our second-floor room, where we would sleep and dream of a better year.

Reader Mal Cooper lives in Lido Beach.