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Displaced West Ender Finds Silver Linings in Sandy

Nicole Pelletiere outside her storm-damaged West End home.
Nicole Pelletiere outside her storm-damaged West End home.
It’s the simpler things that Nicole Pelletiere came to appreciate.

She and her fiancé, Brian Onorato, were forced to become nomads after their Long Beach home was flooded in Hurricane Sandy. Pelletiere soon found that she longed for those evenings when she cooked in their kitchen and he sat watching television in their living room, and she missed her daily chats with their neighbors. She was even awakened to the simple ability to flush a toilet in a city where the sewage and water plants shut down in the storm.  

“Things like that you take for granted, and then you move to a place where you don’t know anyone, but there’s just no place like Long Beach,” Pelletiere said.  

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All this was underscored after the couple returned to their flood-damaged bungalow on Vermont Street in early January. Soon after their neighbors knocked on their door to welcome them back to the block where homes remained vacant.

“Every day I think about the storm and how it affected me and my fiancé and my neighbors,” Pelletiere said.

The first week after Sandy, she and Onorato stayed home and tried to clean up, especially the sewage that had invaded their floors and walls. But without power or heat, the experience quickly took a mental and physical toll on them. Initially, they relocated to the homes of various relatives and friends, but they never felt completely uncomfortable and were tired.

Finally, the couple found a condominium in Westbury where they stayed temporarily, even though they were required to rent for a year. “I asked them to have a heart and take us for two months,” Pelletiere recalled.

Meanwhile, they faced setback as they tried to restore their home and return by Christmas. They learned that the floodwaters shifted its foundation, and sheetrock had sold out and was unavailable for rebuilding. These delays that conspired with their nomadic experiences left Pelletiere emotionally overwhelmed, with anger taking the leading role.

“I think the reason why I was so emotional was because all of a sudden this hurricane comes out of nowhere and somebody tells me I have to pack up my stuff and move out of my home,” she said. “And I didn’t want to move out of Long Beach, even though it was so devastated.”

The night of storm, the couple decided to ride it out at home, believing that since Hurricane Irene left their house relatively unscathed in August 2011, the same might hold true for Sandy. They boarded up their doors, put their cats in a crate and elevated them along with their furniture in their home. They also donned wetsuits, having no upstairs where they could retreat in case the storm turned out worse than predicted. Then, in the midst of the storm, reality struck.

“I was on the phone with my aunt and noticed that the kitchen floor suddenly got very cold and the water started coming up through the floorboards and that’s when I started to get really scared,” Pelletiere remembered. “It was like something out of a movie, like the end of the world.”

The water quickly invaded the bungalow and the power was lost, after which they sat in the dark in knee-high flooding and waited for it to recede.

When recounting that night with regret, Pelletiere also recalled something else she took for granted: the caring of family and friends, who tried frantically but fruitlessly to call them right after the storm. Two mornings later, one of Onorato’s friends drove from Center Moriches to show up at their front stoop with cleaning supplied in hand, ready to help.   

“You realize you have good friends and family but when something like this happens you know who’s really there for you,” Pelletiere said. “It was very comforting and it made us feel like we weren’t alone in this.”

Now, as the couple works to return to normalcy, they look forward to their wedding on Nov. 1. Before Sandy, the had planned to go out to dinner on the date, a year before their big day. Instead, they ended up cleaning sewage in their home. But Pelletiere finds there is a silver lining to be had.

“This experience has made us stronger as a couple and as a community,” she said.

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Goingplaces January 31, 2013 at 07:47 AM
My heart goes out to them & all of us who lost so much in this storm. I too, find there are many silver linings in this devastation. I live in a basement apartment and lost everything too. I have a a wonderful family who supported us and helped us in every conceivable way. My brother took us all in (myself, husband, 2 adult kids, and parents) for 3 weeks and then I moved into the attic and I remain there as construction continues. I am living in LB since 1976 & I still love LB.
Kat January 31, 2013 at 09:25 AM
friends still in that boat today
LBLifer January 31, 2013 at 10:52 AM
Congrats on getting back in to both of you. We hope to be back into our partially completed rehabed home by this weekend. It's been a long ride. Thanks for the ride out of LB Brian!

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