The Happiness that Attends Disaster: A Sandy Story

The one-year mark of Hurricane Sandy was a milestone for many of the super-storm’s victims. It was a testament to the progress they’ve made and a reminder of what is still to come. One young woman looks back on Hurricane Sandy in awe of both the love and tragedy that followed.

“You just have to find a new normal. You’re not going to get back to your old normal, especially for us,” Victoria said. “I mean we didn’t just lose out house in the storm.”

Victoria DeScenza found herself stuck in what seemed to be the perfect storm in the fall of 2012.

Her mother, Nancy, had been struggling with breast cancer for nine years. In late summer, doctors found the disease had spread to her bones and brain.

“I had taken her to the doctor that August and she decided she wanted quality over quantity,” Victoria said.  “At that point the drugs were more so killing her than the disease, so she opted out. I knew I needed to be home that semester.”

Victoria’s three siblings also found themselves headed back to their beach side home in Sea Bright, N.J., that fall. Even then, with the family’s busy schedule and her dad traveling frequently for work, it was rare the family would be together at the same time. Until they had the opportunity to celebrate a favorite family past time, hurricane watching.

HURRICANE WATCHING

The DeScenza family had a history of riding out storms, sitting through Hurricane Irene as well as the storms from Hurricane Andrew and Tropical Storm Danielle in 1992.

“We were beach kids,” Victoria said. “Yeah, it was dangerous but we’d go out in our waders with water almost to our chest.”

With glistening eyes, Victoria explained playing chicken with the 95 mile per hour winds. There was something about the memory she was conveying that caused her demeanor to waffle from fear to excitement. Giddiness overcame Victoria as she told of challenging a force of nature so great it was as if they were challenging death itself.

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on 498 Ocean Ave., the family’s devil-may-care attitudes shifted into crisis mode. They soon realized this storm was quickly intensifying to a level they had never seen before, but that didn’t mean they were leaving. The DeScenzas still had a home to protect and a family to maintain.

“You have more control over what needs to get done at that point,” Victoria said. “If something is going to go wrong you have the option to save your home while putting yourself in that kind of danger.”

MONDAY NIGHT

“We lost power, heat and electricity by the end of the night. Emergency services had stopped so we had to power the oxygen tanks for my mom by generator.”

Once the storm water reached the front steps, the DeScenzas knew they were stuck. Even when doubt Victoria_1crept in, there was realistically no other option.

“At one point my brother pulled my dad aside and said ‘Dad, what are we going to do? We have surfboards and life jackets, we could still just jump and ride it out?’ My dad looked at him and said ‘Now what about your mother in a hospital bed?’,” she said.

“We weren’t going anywhere. My sister and I moved my mom to the back room away from the danger of telephone poles coming through the roof.”

As Victoria and her family carried valuables up to the third floor and gathered necessary supplies to prepare for the worst, they all feared there was more than a storm coming their way.

“We thought we were going to lose her that night,” Victoria said.

Victoria said her mother had barely moved that day. She just lay there, almost unconscious, as her family bustled around her.

“We all snuggled up in her bed that night, my dad had brought out the generator and we watched one of her favorite films on a portable DVD player,” she said. “She wasn’t watching it, but it felt good to be all around her.”

“That was the night the storm hit and as the tides rose in, that’s the way the emotions built up.”

When the DeScenza family awoke, no worse for wear, the same could not be said for their town. The road was buried under almost four feet of sand and homes and businesses were almost unrecognizable.

One Year Later

“Its just so surreal,” Victoria said. “In a way, you’re still in go mode. You’re always looking for what you need to do next.”

Nancy DeScenza died one week after Sandy hit.  Looking back on the experience, Victoria said her family feels with the tragedy of Sandy they were also given a blessing.

“It was the one point in time we were all together with her, for that last week and a half,” Victoria said.

For some time after Sandy, most of the smaller roads and bridges that provide access to towns such as Sea Bright, N.J. were closed. Victoria explained if she had chosen to seek refuge with her friends at Ohio State or gone back to school, she would have been barred from her mother’s final moments.

“If I had been at school or somewhere else during the storm, I would have no way to get back to her. She wouldn’t have had all her kids there.”

With one year between the loss of much of her home and community as well as the loss of her mother, Victoria DeScenza is back at Ohio State celebrating the victory she and her loved ones triumphed that day.

“Remembering all we’ve been through, the stress and fear that it might take us out,” she said. “Now we just get to say—Hey, it didn’t.”Victoria_3

(The title of this story was inspired in part by a quote from the author Jeffrey Eugenides in his novel, MiddleSex.)

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