This is the fourth in a series of profiles of New York area residents whose worlds were upended by Superstorm Sandy.
On Monday evening, Oct. 29, Liz Bennett heard the distant wail of fire engines outside her modest frame home on the thin Rockaway Beach peninsula that juts out of the borough of Queens. Liz (above) yelled upstairs to her husband, Bill, who at 67 is retired from his job as the superintendent of a building in Manhattan. Then she ran to a window.
"I looked out and the whole ocean was coming up the block!" the 61-year-old hotel cleaning woman says, awe and fear still tingeing her voice almost two weeks later. "The next thing I knew, the basement door was ripped off and the washer and dryer went up in the air. We had decided not to evacuate because we left in 2011 before Hurricane Irene and nothing happened. We thought we were safe this time."
Yet like scores of their fellow New Yorkers, the Bennett family was in fact in danger. The power failed, plunging them into darkness as the surging seawater filled up the basement. Liz, Bill and their five-year-old grandson made their way up to the second floor. Right behind them were one of their four daughters and her husband, who had been allowed to come home from Afghanistan in anticipation of needing to help his loved ones after the storm.
While the five of them huddled together, Liz was consumed with worry about her other daughters. They live in the area, and one of them has an 18-month-old baby. Liz couldn't contact them because the phone wasn't working.
Liz finally found out in the days that followed that all of her daughters and the baby did survive. Sadly, though, a dear friend on the next street was not so lucky. "She drowned in her own home," Liz says. "She was in her 70s. They found her body. Horrible."
Though Liz, Bill and their brood rode out the storm, the damage to their home (above) was devastating. "We lost a brand new boiler that we could barely afford in the first place," Liz says. "And the washer, the dryer, the furniture, everything down there is gone. The walls and floor are ruined and there's mold. The smell is awful.
See also: AARP Foundation Relief Fund
"But you know what's amazing? People came to help. They brought food and cleaning supplies and they got the muck out and sprayed disinfectant. My daughter thanked one of the volunteers, and he just smiled."
As welcome as that help was, however, Liz is overwhelmed at the thought of how they will ever recover financially. "I have arthritis in my back and my knees, so I was going to take my Social Security next year when I'm 62," she says. "Now I'll have to hang in there. What can you do? But I keep thinking crazy things like maybe somebody will show up and donate a boiler. You can't lose hope."
See other parts of the Surviving Sandy series:
- 'I Thought My Mother Was Going to Die'
- 'One Saving Grace ... I Had My Car'
- '10 Years of Hard Work and Sacrifice ... Gone'
- 'I Raised My Hand'
Photo: Anna Solo