This story was written by Dan Cunningham, a member of CWA Local 1180 who works at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Isabella Burns, who shares her experiences of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, also is a member of Local 1180.
Isabelle Burns' neighborhood, Grimsby Street in Midland Beach, was ground zero for Hurricane Sandy. Eight people died there because of the storm.
The sun was about to set on Staten Island on Monday, October 29, 2012. A storm called Sandy trolled the waters off the Midland Beach neighborhood. Wherever Sandy had landed, she left death and destruction in her wake. Drawing first blood in the Caribbean, she fueled her appetite in the Carolinas, the Virginias, and Maryland. She served another deadly dose of savagery along the Jersey Shore. But by sunset on the 29th, the monster off Midland Beach was a behemoth, at the height of its fury, meaner, more murderous than ever. Little did the residents of Midland Beach know that they were about to receive Sandy’s most lethal brew of storm and surge.
As darkness fell, 60-year-old Isabella Burns of 164A Grimsby St. scurried around her one-story bungalow. She closed windows, sealed doors, and took out her three shop vacs. No water on the street yet, hardly any rain falling, and it was well past sundown. She decided to stay and ride out Sandy with her darling cats. Her neighbor, 79-year-old Beatrice Spagnuolo, also stayed. She lived in the attached bungalow at 164 Grimsby St. with her daughter, Lucy. The majority of Midland Beach residents decided likewise. Those who stayed admitted hearing the warnings. But they had heard the same about Hurricane Irene, and Irene never did much damage in Midland. “There have been storms here since I can remember,” one old-time resident was heard to say. “We always get by without much fuss.” Sandy would be no different, many assumed. The reasons people stayed varied — stubbornness, denial, a false sense of security, defiance, certainly disbelief. Most just didn’t believe the warnings.
Isabella Burns had no idea that she was smack in the middle of Sandy’s crosshairs. She didn’t know that the eight-block area around her bungalow would be Sandy’s maximum-kill zone. She didn’t know that eight of her neighbors would ie. Sandy beckoned for Isabella as well, but she spurned the offer. To paraphrase a poem by Dylan Thomas, she did not go gently into the night, she raged and raged against the dying of the light.