Bringing People Together

November 15, 2012 • United States

Grace Caputo compared it to the scene in “Titanic” where Kate Winslet is wielding an ax as she goes down into the part of the boat that is already under water. Grace could relate to Kate’s character as she walked through a dining room full of floating tables. And while Grace’s story may not be quite as dramatic as the Titanic, the journey she made during Hurricane Sandy certainly isn’t one to just shrug off.

On the day of the storm, Grace took two of her children to her mother’s home across the street in Long Beach, N.Y. Her father, Raymond, met them there. They didn’t expect the storm to be bad, but thought it would be best to be safe and stay in the house highest off the ground.

Nassau County residents express their thanks for Samaritan’s Purse volunteers

The family had made it through Hurricane Irene last year. Although the storm had brought water into their basement, they were able to ride it out. They expected that Sandy would be similar.

But as the family sat in the house, they noticed the floodwater was getting higher and higher outside. The basement was filling up, and it wasn’t slowing down.

“Then winds were picking up, and then at about 6 o’clock, the water just gushed,” Grace said. “It just came gushing down, and it just kept coming. The water came up so quick that before you knew it, it was too high.”

Leaving home

Grace’s mother, Lorraine, said the water looked like Niagara Falls as it poured down the street. The basement was full of 10 feet of water, and it had nowhere to go except into the house. Water started leaking into the back door, and then a trickle came through the front door. With water rushing past the house at almost five feet deep, Grace told her family that they needed to get out.

“All the debris was in the street,” she said. “There were fences, there was patio furniture, things were floating. It was sick. Plus there were all these piles of sand.”

Lorraine and Raymond prepared to leave the house. They equipped their granddaughter with a flashlight, and Grace put her youngest child on her back. They knew that their neighbors on higher ground were home, and if they could make it to that house, they knew they would be safe. But even with the flashlight, it was too dark to see where they were going.

“You couldn’t see anything,” Grace said. “I’m holding on, and we’re doggie paddling. We had to cross the street, and we were moving the furniture in the street. The water was freezing.”

They arrived at their neighbors’ house at about 8 p.m. They sat under blankets until dawn with other people who had swam to the house. Finally, after a tiring night, the water left.

“It took a really long time for the water to recede,” Grace said. “It took hours and hours for it to go back down. It came up vicious. It was just like someone opened up the dam, and then they wouldn’t open the dam to let the water go back out.”

The aftermath

But daylight and receding water didn’t bring good news. Lorraine’s home had been submerged under knee-deep water. Everything in her basement was ruined, and her clothes and food that had been in bottom drawers had to be thrown out. None of the furniture survived.

“You lose everything,” Raymond said. “Everything in the basement from photos, music, videos, cassettes, power tools, clothing, holiday decorations—everything is gone.”

Less than a week after the storm, Lorraine had a heart attack. She was able to return home from the hospital quickly, but her weakened condition left her with a destroyed home and no way to fix it. Nothing was salvageable, so she threw everything out and moved across the street to live in Grace’s home until something could be done.

Since the storm, Grace and her three children have been living in a rental unit that has been entirely gutted by the landlord to avoid mold growth. Not even a toilet remains, so the family is constantly walking across the street to use the bathroom in Lorraine’s wet, dark home.

They had endured several days of this situation when Lorraine met a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer. She was grateful to find out that we could work on her home for free, and she was even more pleased to see a team on her doorstep quickly afterwards.

The team pumped all the remaining water from her basement and removed wet drywall. And while there’s still some rebuilding to do before Lorraine can live in her home again, she is grateful to be one step closer to normalcy.

Although Grace doesn’t know why God allowed the storm to happen, she has a theory that it was to bring people closer together. Her mother and father are divorced, but now they are both living in Grace’s home. The community has come together to help one another. And, as Grace watched an army of volunteers in orange Samaritan’s Purse T-shirts descend on her mother’s home, she saw that the storm had even brought people from all over the United States.

“You can see [they care] in their faces,” Grace said.