Superstorm Sandy: A Story of Survival

This post explores the Sochacki family’s experience after Superstorm Sandy destroyed their 1940s bungalow on October 29, 2012.

In the year since Superstorm Sandy pummeled Union Beach, N.J., Karyn and Seth Sochacki have found startling remnants of their former life amid the concrete block and rubble where their waterfront bungalow stood before succumbing to the storm’s relentless onslaught.

Their discoveries are the things that stun natural-disaster victims everywhere who hunt through debris: Unbroken china dishes and Karyn’s treasured engagement and wedding rings that were left for safekeeping in a dish by the kitchen sink while she did chores before the storm hit.

More items emerged as Seth and Karyn painstakingly sifted for months through tons of sand dumped on their property at their request by cleanup crews on their street. Their search for the tiniest symbols of the home that had been wrested from their hands yielded unbroken glass trinkets and an intact delicate gold necklace.

“Our house was spread over a five-block area,” Seth says.

It certainly wasn’t an outcome he even remotely considered when the first warnings about an approaching storm were issued. The 800-square-foot wood two-bedroom bungalow built in the 1940s had withstood many nor’easters in the 18 years that the Sochackis lived in it.

But they knew this storm would be different hours before it hit. Steadily increasing winds blew directly from the north and waves pounded more fiercely than ever before. Roof shingles and soffit vents tore away from the house, and leaks from a bay window were worse than they’d ever been.

The decision came soon after: Seth and Karyn put up plywood boards on windows facing the water, and took nine cats, two dogs and two teenage sons next door to Grandma’s 4,000-square-foot concrete house.

There, Seth and Karyn and the boys struggled to save items in a garage that flooded after the waves tore open an outside entry door. At one point, more than three feet of water in the garage grew deeper and then shallower as almost three-foot waves flowed in and out like taunting invaders.

Upstairs, all was eerily quiet as the storm raged. Spray from the pounding waves lashed at boarded windows, making it difficult for Seth to see what was happening to the little bungalow next door.

The first thing to disappear was the gazebo. Then the Sochackis’ two cars parked in front of Grandma’s garage were gone. At some point, Grandma’s car also washed away after her automatic garage doors somehow opened. Seth’s shed was next to blow away. And, finally, the bungalow wasn’t there anymore.

By dawn, the storm had spent its energy on Union Beach. Seth walked outside to find a sodden desert of sand and debris – and the sound of “little jet engines” from ruptured gas pipelines.

He saw no neighbors. The three family cars were found across the street, unsalvageable. The bungalow was nowhere to be seen, and its foundation was covered in water.

Grandma’s concrete house was the only one still standing on the Sochackis’ side of the street.

Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) Releases Hurricane Sandy ‘Tale of Two Homes’ Story of Survival

Watch video – Hurricane Sandy: A Story of Survival 

See news story – FLASH Releases Hurricane Sandy ‘Tale of Two Homes’ Story of Survival

FLASH Joins Experts at Earthquake Forum

Free Public Forum Coincides with Global “Great ShakeOut” Preparedness Drill

Memphis, TN – The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) is joining local, national and international experts for a free earthquake resiliency forum on Thursday, October 17 at the University of Memphis.  The Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium, Center for Earthquake Research and Information, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), FLASH and others are presenting the forum in conjunction with the Great Shakeout– a global earthquake safety and preparedness drill.  Of more than 18 million registered worldwide, 2.3 million residents in Tennessee, Arkansas and surrounding regions will participate in the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut.

“Earthquakes leave us with no time to prepare, which is why it is so important to get ready now,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson.  “Last year’s 3.9 magnitude Parkin earthquake just thirty miles from Memphis is a stark reminder that the risk to this region is real.”

Forum presentations will include:

  • Life safety and economic impacts on families, businesses and communities
  • Lessons learned from Christchurch, New Zealand where the threat profile is similar to Memphis
  • Building codes, building practices and community planning tools available to reduce losses

FLASH will join the “Building a Resilient Memphis” panel to discuss the role modern, model codes play in creating resilient communities.   Following the public forum, participants will have the opportunity to view exhibits from participating organizations.  FLASH will be providing free consumer and business resources, including FEMA’s QuakeSmart Toolkit for Small Business which provides structural and nonstructural mitigation information; Earthquake:  Protect Your Home, Prepare Your Home, Protect Your Contents printed FLASH Cards and the new Earthquake: Protect Your Contents, Secure Your Space animation.

WHAT: Free Public Forum on Building Resiliency in the Face of Earthquake Risk

WHO: Citizens, business leaders, public officials, news media

WHEN: Thursday, October 17, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. CDT

WHERE: Michael D. Rose Theater and Lecture Hall, University of Memphis main campus.

Visit for more information about the Forum and visit for free earthquake safety and mitigation resources.

FLASH President and CEO Addresses United Nations in Conjunction with October 7 – World Habitat Day 2013

Remarks Focus on Advancing Resilience through Policy Leadership, Social Value and Open Source Information

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Oct. 7, 2013 — Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson delivered remarks at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters Friday in New York as part of a panel entitled “Resilient Design – To Build or Not to Build?”. Her address offered an in-depth look at fostering a ‘culture of prevention’ through policy leadership, creating public value and leveraging an open source information framework. The event, hosted by the UN’s Economic and Social Council in conjunction with UN-Habitat, brought together experts on natural disasters to identify resilient design challenges and opportunities, and to share best practices and innovative, replicable ideas. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN General Assembly President John Ashe opened the day with inspirational remarks, urging participants to strive for resilience throughout the globe.

“It is an honor to work with the world’s most influential and talented minds to advance disaster resilience in America and across the globe,” said Chapman-Henderson, who spent 12 years in the insurance industry responding to natural disasters and delivering risk mitigation policy followed by 15 years as the leader of the nonprofit FLASH.  “Empowering policy makers, thought leaders, individuals, families and communities with information to drive strong, safe and sustainable homes is a critical first step in achieving resilience worldwide.”

Specifically, her address examined:

  • the state of building codes and enforcement as a matter of public policy in the United States and internationally;
  • proposed policies to incent homeowners to build or retrofit homes with resilience in mind;
  • award-winning public awareness initiatives designed to create a future generation that understands, values and demands resilience;
  • an initiative to embed resiliency into higher education and graduate programs through creation of model curriculum; and,
  • a case for open science laboratories and open source information to accelerate understanding and acceptance among design professionals, developers, home builders and realtors.

“My convictions are a reflection of nearly three decades of experience on the frontlines of disaster safety, from delivering regulatory and policy solutions to help manage financial exposure to catastrophic risk to developing innovative and effective public awareness and higher education initiatives,” said Chapman-Henderson.  “Our mission is to share that experience with others committed to advancing the mission of strengthening homes and safeguarding families.”

View the United Nations broadcast or download the prepared statement.