Hurricane Sandy survivor’s terrifying ordeal

Stuart aMcEwing's neighbour's home which exploded following a gas leak caused by Hurricane Sandy. NA
Stuart aMcEwing's neighbour's home which exploded following a gas leak caused by Hurricane Sandy. NA

A FRAMPTON man living in America has experienced the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy at his home.

Stuart McEwing and his wife were terrified they would not make it out alive as the super storm raged across New York and brought 5ft of water into his home.

Frampton man Stuart McEwing and American wife Amanda endured Hurricane Sandy at their Long Island home. NA

Frampton man Stuart McEwing and American wife Amanda endured Hurricane Sandy at their Long Island home. NA

“We’re lucky enough to be able to tell the story,” said Stuart, 31, who emigrated in 2008. “There are many in New York that aren’t able to as the death toll for this storm has been much higher than expected.”

Stuart and his American wife Amanda spent 18 months creating their dream home in Freeport on the south shore of Long Island, only for it to be ravaged by flood water and the hurricane’s 92mph winds.

“All the houses in our neighbourhood are currently unliveable as none have power or working heating, plus massive damage to the insides.”

Describing the course of events, he said: “We decided prior to the storm that we wanted to stay in the house as we had been there during Hurricane Irene and only wound up with about four inches of water in the house, something which we dealt with rather easily as we were still renovating the house at that point. This decision was made based on the fact we wanted to try and learn how we could prevent water from getting into the house if we ever got another flood like Irene and like we expected Sandy to be. Sadly we were more wrong than either of us ever imaged.”

The couple spent the weekend preparing for the storm but moving belongings upstairs, keeping an eye on the news and storm updates.

On Monday morning Stuart said that despite warnings the surge would be up to 7ft, the flood water barely reached the wheels of his car.

“During this surge one of the evacuated houses on our block caught fire as a power line came down,” he said. “This house was later completely destroyed by a gas explosion.”

The Monday surge receded by 11.30am and residents came out and went on with their day. But later the couple received a phone call warning them to get out before the forecast night time tidal surge.

“The emergency management service stated the tide was going to be at it’s worst on Monday night and all residents should either evacuate or prepare for what was coming,” he said. “Like many we chose to stay as we were concerned about post-storm looting.”

As it got to Monday night the forecast was that the storm was going to hit south of them, close to Atlantic City in New Jersey and that the surge was going to be very serious.

“We discussed evacuating at that time,” he said. “But still didn’t want to leave the house we had worked on for so very long. If I could do it again I would just have packed up, locked up and left.

“At around 5.30pm the second surge began, the high tide was scheduled for 9pm so we knew we were in for a long haul with her. As the surge began to come in it looked just like the morning surge that hadn’t even touched it.

“We actually stood on the step of our house watching the storm make landfall as we knew that we could easily just run inside the house in a fraction of a second should we need to.

“By 7pm the water began to seep into the house, just a trickle at first as the water made it’s way into the garage at the front and our conservatory at the back.

“This led to us making the decision to turn off the gas, just in case the water got high enough to flood the pilot lights on our boiler and water heater. This decision likely saved our lives in the hours that would come, given what happened.

“I personally have never seen water flow so quickly. In a matter of minutes the trickle became an uncontrollable flow from beneath the garage door and also the boiler room.

“By 8pm the inside of the house was under around two-and-a-half feet of water. The circuits began burning out in the house as water reached different plug sockets. Each time a circuit burnt out the area around the plugs was subjected to an electrical discharge that would create a momentary spark and smoke.

“At 8.45pm the town of Freeport shut off the electricity to every house south of Atlantic Ave.

“By 9pm the water was just under 5ft high all around the house. My car was completely submerged below water and my wife’s was submerged beyond the bonnet. Both of these cars are completely wrecked and will never be usable again.

“We spent the rest of the night sitting in the bedroom on the top floor as the house was rocked by 90mph winds. We had no power, no heating and the temperature had steadily dropped during that day to around 9C.

“Periodically I would stick my head out the door to see what was going on, or look out of a window to see what was going on. We could see that the huge oak tree in my neighbour’s garden had fallen down and gone through the back of the house behind us, fortunately no one was hurt.

“At one point I had a section of pier with a picnic bench bolted to it sitting on the top of my car that had been washed away from someone’s house. When I would step outside you could visibly see houses around the immediate area burning, the transformers on the power lines repeatedly flashing blue as they blew out and seeing assorted detritus floating down the street.

“This process went on for roughly four more hours as the storm intensified. We could hear parts of the siding on the front of our house being torn off and the windows we’re shaking from the now sustained 90mph winds.

During that time we smell smoking inside the house a couple of times and had to investigate.

“We also contemplated exactly what we could do if the house were to catch fire, this was the point where we were genuinely scared that we might not make it out, however, we managed to figure out that the smoke was due to the electrical circuits burning out when the water touched them. Fortunately we had smoke alarms in the house and we knew that as long as they didn’t start going off that we would be okay.

“At around 1.30am my wife and I pretty much passed out from overall exhaustion as the storm continued to rage around us.”

In the morning, as the couple were preparing to head out and assess the damage, they heard a loud bang and felt their house shake. “What we would later discover was the aforementioned house exploding due to a gas build up,” said Stuart.

“As soon as we stepped outside we encountered a guy who very plainly asked us if we had seen his boat. It later turned out his 20ft-long boat was in the middle of a side street about a quarter of a mile away.

“During the walk we also saw that there was another house that had collapsed. The smell of burning was strong in the air and the smell of petrol was horrible.

“Despite everything, people’s attitudes were as bright as it could be. We all knew we’d been through something we would talk about for the rest of our lives.

“Everyone has lost something to this, we’re just fortunate that all we lost were material possessions and not a life.”

Before emigrating to the US, Stuart worked as an IT tutor at Boston College.

His parents Glynis and Ian still live at Frampton and were planning to visit later this month for Thanksgiving.

“It has been just devastating for them,” Glynis told The Standard. Ian added: “They have had $100,000 worth of damage.”

Insurance policies in the hurricane-prone area means Stuart and Amanda have to find five per cent of the value of their home themselves. They had only finished refurbishing their home in July this year and are now having to find $19,000 before they can start to repair and clear their home.

Stuart and Amanda are now taking shelter with family in America and are not expected to be able to return to their home until after Christmas.

“For many, thanksgiving will take on a new meaning this year,” Stuart added. “For myself and Amanda it certainly will as we are so thankful to all those that have reached out to help us so far.”

If you are able to help Stuart and Amanda visit their fundraising page