After Hurricane Sandy: How One Family is Rebuilding

Read the story of a family who lost almost everything in Hurricane Sandy, and learn how you can prepare your family for a disaster.

By Cynthia Clifford
Sep 09, 2013



Sep 09, 2013

In 2010, the Cliffords were Scholastic Parent & Child’s Family of the Year. Then last fall, they lost almost everything in Superstorm Sandy. After a year of upheaval, they’re on a new mission: to make sure you never live through what they did. 

Around dinnertime on October 29, 2012, the sky turned black. My husband, Michael, went outside our home in Belle Harbor, NY, to sweep leaves off the sewer grates so that the water would have somewhere to go. I followed, but neither of us should have been there at all. We live on a narrow peninsula that juts into the Atlantic and had been told to evacuate. But we decided to ride out the storm. We’d had the same warning a year before for Hurricane Irene, and we didn’t want to go through the trouble of leaving for nothing once again. As my 8-year-old, Nina, and 9-year-old, Aidan, were watching from a window, Michael suddenly screamed, “Get in the house! It’s coming!” I looked down the street to see an enormous surge of water headed right toward me. As I got to my door, it was right behind me.

In minutes, our basement was flooding. While Michael was outside putting sandbags against the door, I ran downstairs to save what I could. I yelled to my kids to stay at the top of the staircase so I could hand them family albums, work files, a computer, Aidan’s elaborate Lego sets. They were yelling, “Don’t die! Come up!” As the water reached my knees, I did.
Once the basement filled up, water began streaming onto the main floor. We ordered the kids to stay on the second floor. They stood at the landing trying to see us, crying as we brought favorite possessions upstairs.
Michael put our only two life vests on the kids. I asked, “What if it keeps rising?” He replied, “We’ll swim to the neighbor’s roof.” Aidan asked where my life vest was. I pretended not to hear him — he knew I couldn’t swim.
The kids were sobbing, asking if we were going to drown. We cuddled in bed, hugging and kissing them, telling them we’d be fine. They slept fitfully. At some point, I heard a crash. A car had floated into our house.

The Aftermath

In the morning, the sun came out, and we went outside. Our neighbors were walking around like zombies. The neighborhood was like a war zone — mountains of sand and debris everywhere. The bottom half of our home was destroyed.

For six months, we bounced between family members, sleeping on sofas. The kids ended up attending school in Brooklyn. They took turns crying as it sunk in how much they’d lost. They missed their pals, their routine, their neighborhood. Mike and I grew depressed, too.

So sometime in early spring, we decided we had to get back into our house somehow, now that it was safe to occupy. We moved into the second floor and bought a folding table, minifridge, microwave, and toaster. We had cold breakfasts and takeout for dinner every night. It didn’t matter, though, because finally the kids were smiling again.

The Clouds Part

A year later, our house is still being repaired. But the good news is, our family is closer than ever. Mike and I never take each other for granted anymore. We saw how strong we could be. Nina and Aidan have become much more appreciative. They say thank you for every little thing and complain less. They say I’m a great cook when I throw a sandwich together!

That’s not to say they’re over it. They occasionally have nightmares and get startled by running water. They’re more anxious during thunderstorms. Obviously, we didn’t have a plan before. But seeing us make one has helped. I learned how to swim and bought more life vests. And if we’re told to evacuate, we’re getting the heck out. Putting my kids through that night is my biggest regret.

Which is why we want to help you save your kids from going through what ours did. So, please, keep reading, and see just how easy protecting your family can be. Learn the specific details on what to do before and during a hurricane, flood, tornado, fire, or earthquake.

Plus: 4 Ways to Help Kids Cope After a Disaster 

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