Hurricane Sandy destroyed Joan Flynn’s home in Rockaway Beach, NY. She and her husband Steven have been environmentally conscious and concerned about climate change for decades. They see the event as a wake-up call about the climate change that fuels extreme weather events like Sandy.
As they and their family pick up the pieces and figure out how to rebuild, Joan took a few minutes to share her story, and what she would say to the politicians she charges with tackling global warming.
Greenpeace: Tell us about what happened to you and your home.
Joan Flynn: Our decision to stay in our house during the storm was influenced a lot by Hurricane Irene, the last hurricane that hit us. That turned out to be nothing, and it lulled a lot of people into complacency about Sandy.
On Monday, A neighbor of ours went down to the oceans with his two kids and put sandbags at the seawall, thinking that would make a difference. All of a sudden we see him on the run with his kids, and I asked him what was wrong, and he said “the seawall broke” and behind him was a rush of water. We live 1,000 feet from the ocean and it wasn’t just a little flood, it was a rush of water coming down the street.
We and our neighbors camped out on our second floor, and when it started getting really bad, we tried to go to another neighbor’s house with a higher second floor. It was dark already, and we were like a train holding each other’s shoulders to get to his house. When we went to step out across the street, the current was so strong that we had to get back, because it would have taken us. The rush of the water coming in from the ocean up the street had nothing to slow it down, and we would have been dead. So we all went back to our house and went upstairs.
We got Marie, our neighbor on chemo who was with us, settled into bed. From our second story we can see east and west, and at one point I looked out west and I could see this amazing glow of light. Usually if there’s a fire in Breezy Point you hear the fire siren and then you hear the city fire engines coming from 40 blocks away. I looked at Steven and I said “I haven’t heard any fire engines. None.” So we realized that was going to be a pretty outrageous hit. Maybe 20 minutes later, we started smelling smoke. We looked out to the east and there were fires there as well.
The thing I realize now is that both Steven and I were illogically calm. I felt ready: I had people to take care of, because Marie was sick, and her husband was beside himself because her immune system was compromised. I didn’t think about being afraid, I thought about staying calm and what we needed to do next.
GP: How bad are the damages?
JF: The damage to the house is bad enough that we need a new house. I never realized how much I really loved my home. I didn’t have a single breakdown moment until Thursday, when I was standing by the stove and thinking “what am I taking” of all the pots and pans hanging above the stove. And I saw these little ceramic ducks on the stove that I remembered that my daughter and I had gotten when we took my youngest son to college. And I totally lost it. And I was standing outside with my frying pan in my hands sobbing. There are bright sides: after the kids moved out, I got new rugs. My daughter never liked them, so as we hauled them out I said “I bet you’re really happy about that.” So we had a laugh or two.
GP: What will you do next?
JF: I’ve seen Fire Island, a barrier island south of Long Island, get hit by storms a number of times over the years… and they say “we’re going to rebuild.” I thought they were out of their minds. But I’m 64 years old, I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to rebuild and I’m going to stay here, because this is where I live. I put roots down here and you can’t just tear them out. I think if I were a young parent, I would consider not staying, because this isn’t going to stop happening. And that’s the thing more than anything that has me pissed, is that it didn’t have to be this way. During the Carter admin, we put thermal solar panels on our roof for hot water, and it seemed so sensible, just like what you’ve got to do. I thought everyone would be doing it. But politicians and oil companies just put a stop to that and gave us more coal and wars for oil instead.
GP: How much do you think climate change was a part of hurricane sandy?
JF: I’m 64 years old and I have lived in Rockaway for 40 years and have seen the weather change. Even though they’re not huge storms that spread a million miles, we’ve had tornadoes, outrageous storms – storms that come out of nowhere and knock trees down, all of this – so many more just in the past three years than in the preceding 37 years I lived in Rockaway. That’s climate change.
GP: What would you say to President Obama or Gov. Romney, or any other politicians, about climate change?
JF: I would say to them – go against the forces that are paying you and do what is necessary to save the environment for future generations. Just stop the bullshit and say what you’re going to do about it – efficiency and safe, clean renewable energy. Nuclear power plants were compromised up and down the coast, so let’s stop talking about that as a solution to climate change, since climate change is already happening and those power plants are in danger.
They need to say it’s real and say that we have to do something about it. Because I’m afraid if we don’t act now it will be too late.