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.

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