AFTER the STORM

Clouds parted finally for a few hours the last week of October. Hurricane season would officially be over in a few days. Refreshed by the sun, Sybil strolled down Queens Highway to visit the old woman living back in the bush. They spoke of a possible storm approaching Long Island and admitted to one another they were a tad nervous. The sun and blue skies relaxed them a bit.

Later that week, the storm took a name, Noel. Its path directed away from Long Island; nevertheless, dark, heavy clouds rolled off the ocean. For three days, the outer edge of Noel hung over Andros, north of Long Island. Winds howled, sheets of rain blew sideways against the hurricane shutters, electricity blinked. Darkness surrounded Sybil inside her small house. Pushing wavy, dark hair off her face, trying to relax her brow, she reached for the lantern.

“This is a blessing,” she said, speaking aloud to the silence around her. “The storm is missing us, and we are getting a little rain from it,” she tried to convince herself, yet the saturated ground from all the rain concerned Sybil. Prayers flowed from her heart for the people on other islands where Noel was hitting, south of the Bahamas. Shuddering, she imagined mountains rushing to meet the sea, pushing rocks and mud through homes and towns. Lives would be lost and what little possessions they had, destroyed.

The sun came out three days later. Rain passed as clouds floated off the island. Long awaited blue skies prevailed, rejuvenating her, even though she did not know what lay ahead of her. Wading through huge puddles in the yard, Sybil felt childlike. It was good to be outside again after being cooped up in the house. Driving up Queens Highway, she observed a few trees down, easy to clean up, she thought. Suddenly, a small fishing boat paddled towards her on the road. Slamming on the brakes she exclaimed, “What on earth?” It was then that she noticed all the water around her.

“How could this much water be here?” Thoughts flooded her mind. Flooding was exactly what had happened. Six feet of water covered the road for as far as she could see, making it impassable by any car or truck. In the distance, she noticed cars floating, with only rooftops exposed. Front doors of surrounding homes were pushed open, revealing swamped rooms, and floating furniture.

Earlier that morning, Sam had quickly put his old fishing boat in the new highway river.

“Folks need to get from the north end of the island to the south somehow,” he told Sybil. Sam, in his 78 years, had always loved the island, caring for the people.

Cars and trucks were left on one end of the flooded area, a willing soul was on the other end to transport everyone where they needed to go. Young boys carried belongings to and from the boat as Sam ferried people across the vast waterway. Children splashed in the water’s edge. Their giggles and shouts lifted Sybil’s mood. To be young and carefree was a blessing, but she noticed the worry in their parents’ eyes.

Memories of fishing with her husband swamped her as she got into the boat. It could have been a fun ride like those of years ago; however, the surrounding devastation tightened her stomach. Sam pushed the boat off as they slowly made their way forward. It was odd for Sybil to view the island this way. Coconut and banana trees, crotons, hibiscus, and electric poles standing in water, cans, plastic store bags, and paper, lying hidden in the bush for years, floated freely past them. The air smelled fresh and clean, but this would change in a few days because of stagnante water.

Ahead, girls in heels and skirts waited on dry asphalt. Overdressed for their unexpected boat ride, they needed to get to work. Mothers with young children, stood with suitcases. A trip to Nassau for the weekend to visit family had turned into a week of waiting for many Long Islanders. When news began to reach Nassau about how badly Long Island was flooded, their anxieties grew.

“Long Island mashed up bad” was the word out in Nassau. Stella Maris airport opened finally five days after. Even so, getting home to Clarence Town would mean another boat ride like this one and hailing a ride for the 30 miles in between. She heard from the talk on the boat that Hamilton’s, Deadmans Cay, and Grays, further south of Sybil’s settlement, were flooded as well, making for a long day. A quick prayer for peace and safety sprang from her heart.

That prayer was only the beginning of ones that Sybil would whisper during the following weeks as she moved about her beloved island, seeing the damage first hand. Days were busy with repair, cleaning and clearing. People not affected by the storm helped folks who were. Everywhere stories flowed, always with gratefulness and blessed attitudes, a common trait of Long Islanders. Visiting numerous old folks, she repeatedly heard,

“In all my years, I never seen so much water. I thank God no one hurt. We blessed for sure.”

James, the gasman, besides losing all his furniture and belongings, had to fish numerous gas tanks out of the bush. With his usual colossal grin, he stated, “It’ll be alright, I just thankful not one head was hurt in all this. Bless the Lord. We be alright”

A family of seven living near Sybil recovered only a pile of clothes and a couple pictures from the walls. Even before the four feet of water receded, they waded into the house to clean.

“The kitchen was full of floating food mashed together with dog food, cereal, bread, and cans,” one sister shared.

Electrical systems, walls, and cabinets were replaced in the house.  Two of the sisters made an unplanned trip to Florida just before Christmas to order new furniture and appliances. This would stretch any budget, discouraging many. Nevertheless, the family worked hard together to rebuild their home joyfully, reinforcing Sybil’s faith and love of the people of Long Island.

Further south, Sybil’s long time friends, Charles and Sara lost all they had in apartments they owned, their livelihood. Not realizing how fast the water was rising, they waded across the road to the apartment building hoping to save some of the newly refurbished items. Opening the front door, the water gushed in, causing them to stumble, almost sweeping them away. Realizing their lives were in danger, Charles yelled to his wife,

“Woman go back, you can’t help us now. Sara, GO BACK!”

“I wanted to help and be with Charles. I was scared for our lives. I turned around only out of fear,” Sara relayed to Sybil following the storm. Memories still fresh, Sara collapsed in Sybil’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably. It was hard for Sybil to see her usually strong friend so fragile and distressed.

Late one afternoon, a month after Noel had passed, Sybil dragged herself down the path from Charles and Sara’s house. She had painted all day, feeling every bit of her 60 years. Weary from all the work of the past month, she needed to rest and relax.

Sighing Sybil thought, “I still need to check on Rodney and Kerry.”

They were Sybil’s young, newly married neighbors who were full of zest for life. They shared with Sybil a tale of their adventures during the flood. It brought resounding laughter to all, easing Sybil’s heart.

Rodney began, “We were worried about the Doc and his wife alone out on Whelk Cay. Doc called to say they were land locked and running out of food. Having a tiny car, Doc knew his car wouldn’t make it through the three feet of standing water on the road.  He wanted us to get the big truck from the auto shop to drive out with food.”

“That sounded like a good idea,” Kerry interrupted.

Rodney continued, “Talking to Gregory, who had driven out on the road trying to get to Doc and Becca, he told us no way any truck, no matter how big, could get thru that road. The flooding is one thing, but the road has narrowed, the brush on the sides has grown in, and no one has taken care of it. We discussed the possibilities and decided to take our two kayaks and paddle the three mile road waterway.”

“We got supplies from the grocery store for Doc and Becca, loaded coolers and drove to Whelk Cay,” Kerry explained. “We hadn’t driven far when the water started flowing across the road. The big salt ponds at the edge of the road, usually dried up, are huge lakes now, and stinky from stagnant salt water. The water on the road has nowhere to go. It will be a month or more before it is clear enough to drive. We loaded the kayaks with two coolers, six jugs of water and backpacks of food. Rodney was the first in the water. Suddenly he cried out,

Oh, that water is chilly!”

Kerry interrupted excitedly,  “Dark, murky water was waist high. No way was I walking through that! My wonderful husband was my hero, pulling me in my kayak, supplies and all. I settled back to enjoy the ride. Just as Rodney got used to the water it became shallower, and my ride was over. We had to take everything out of the kayak and carry it along with the supplies. Dry land was not as much fun to travel on hauling all that!  Soon the water lay before us again, and I was the “Queen” riding in her carriage once again! This became our system for the next hour, pulling the kayak in the deeper water or carrying our load on dry land.”

“Finally, I got tired of this, and my queen had to walk,” Rodney said playfully. “We were both tired and hot, but I realized from the bends in the road that we were only half way to our friends. Sweat pouring down our faces, we grew quiet as we trekked along, images of their joyous smiles kept us moving.”

“After slopping thru very yucky water, carrying gallon jugs of water and a back pack, we reached the end of their road. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach ahead lightened my load a bit. That ended quickly. Ahead was one final deep valley with at least three feet of water. We turned and looked up a very steep hill filled with prickles. The hill looked good to us! Because of my backpack, every other step I took seemed to pull me down the hill. I zigged and zagged until I finally reached the top and could see blue waters and their house!” Kerry summed it up.

Rodney took over, “Doc and Becca could not believe that they were hearing voices and seeing people! We talked for a few hours and even went for a refreshing swim in their cove. We promised to return the following week with more supplies; and as soon as our truck could get through, we would get them out. The trip back was lighter and faster, much to our delight! All the way home, we discussed easier ways to get to them next. That was three weeks ago and since then we have hiked all the way from Guanna Cay on the beach to their house and walked through the standing water on their road again. BUT, NO MORE KAYAKS! She,” Rodney said, reaching for his bride’s hand, “has been a real trooper, and we have made it another adventure to tell!”

Sybil heard that news of the flood on Long Island had reached other islands and the United States. Money and shipments of needed belongings poured in from families, friends, and strangers. Gratitude floated up and down the island. Humbled by all the help, tears of appreciation flowed from blessed Long Islanders!

Penny and her husband John winter on Long Island. Her love for Long Island and its people will be a source of the fictional book she is writing.

The flood of ’07 on Long Island was real, the story is fiction based on actual Long Island stories.AFTER

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