LONG ISLAND, N.Y. (PIX11) — When PIX11 News asked me to work on the evening of Oct. 28, 2012, I was requested to go to Freeport to cover storm evacuations and preparations for Superstorm Sandy, which was expected to hit the South Shore hard.
By the following morning, when photographer Keith Lopez and I started driving “town to town,” the winds and storm surges were kicking up on the North Shore as well. We traveled through Oyster Bay and Bayville in Nassau County, reporting on county parks that were getting flooded. The wind gusts surpassed 85 miles per hour, and by the time we got near Port Jefferson in Suffolk County, traffic lights were swinging wildly near the ground on Route 347, as fire engines raced along with their sirens blaring.
The night of Oct. 29, as we headed back southwest to Massapequa, we saw explosions of pink and blue in the sky and thought they looked like fireworks. We later learned these were electrical transformers that were blowing up, plunging much of Long Island into darkness. By the time we got to Massapequa, the lights were out and the overflowing canals were turning streets into rivers.
Keith Lopez remembered “the sound of all the car alarms going off in Massapequa” and “a guy running back and forth to get his cars to dry land.”
The next morning, on Oct. 30, Keith and I saw the full depth of destruction as we moved into Baldwin Harbor. A large boat was thrown into the middle of one street, and a house was burned to cinders.
“We heard an explosion; we believe it was a transformer,” one crying woman told us. “The trees caught on fire. Then the house. We watched it burn. It’s devastating, it’s devastating.”
Every day for nearly three weeks, Keith and I found different kinds of destruction in Long Island neighborhoods. The winds buried cars with sand dunes in Long Beach, which imposed a curfew. The National Guard came in to hand out fresh water to lines of people who couldn’t take showers at home.
Thousands tried desperately to pump water out of their basements and first floors.
“The lasting memory I have is when the woman approached then-Gov. Cuomo crying that she lost everything,” Keith Lopez recounted, “and he touched her shoulder and said ‘It’s going to be okay.'”
About 1,000 trees fell down in Levittown, crushing cars and homes.
“I think the enormity of the damage is what sticks out and the different types of damage it wrought,” Keith Lopez recalled. He reminded me about “Ocean Parkway being swept away,” which then reminded me about the seaweed and wet sand that buried the seats at Jones Beach Theatre.
And we will never forget the residents of Oceanside, who confronted a town official on Day 12 after the storm, demanding to know when their electricity would return.
At one point, close to 1 million people lost power on Long Island and residents spent years trying to repair their homes — many others were forced to completely gut their houses and rebuild with elevated foundations.