by Ela Schwartz
When Robyn Stevens heard Hurricane Irene was approaching, the then 59-year-old Bellmore, New York, resident knew what to do. The administrative assistant and case aid worker for Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA), had been heeding the advice of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Nassau County for the entire 45 years she’d lived in her White City community located on a canal near Newbridge Road Park.
Find a place to relocate both herself and her beloved two dogs: check. Have a week’s supply of prescription medications, plus water, canned food and candles: check. Pack important documents in a waterproof lockbox: check. Have an evacuation plan: check.
Ms. Stevens packed her supplies and her shih tzus, Weegee and Bella, into her car and headed to the house of a vacationing friend. But then something happened that made her realize there was something she’d forgotten to take care of.
When her dog Bella ran into the yard, she went outside in the rain to get her. “I slipped and shattered both sides of my nose,” she said. In the midst of being in pain and bleeding profusely, she realized she hadn’t given anyone her friend’s address or phone number. “I didn’t own a cell phone at the time, either,” she said. “So no one could have called or checked on me.”
Luckily, Ms. Stevens was able to get herself into the house and call a friend, who drove her to St. Joseph Hospital. After her surgery, she bought herself a prepaid cell phone.
Three days later she returned home, only to find her first floor filled with about three feet of water. “I hadn’t thought to move things like my [boxes of] fall and winter clothing to the second floor,” she said, so her cold-weather wardrobe had to be discarded. Ditto for her computer. While Ms. Stevens didn’t use it for much besides email and the Web, she says some of her neighbors lost precious family photos and videos that they failed to back up.
Ms. Stevens also learned the importance of saving for a rainy day, so to speak. “When you’re without power—like I was for three weeks—you eat out a lot,” she said. And due to the extensive demand for repairs, contractors first went to work for the people who could pay them in cash. “It took two months for me to get someone in to remove the rugs and three and a half months before I could get the construction workers in to repair damage,” she said.
Despite her ordeal, she has no regrets about living on the water. She just advises everyone to take warnings seriously and heed the advice of experts such as FEMA. “By the time the water is coming into your house, it’s too late,” she said.