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On October 29, 2012 Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast coast. It left death and destruction in her wake. This is one woman’s story of strength, faith, determination survival. Anne Heslin, 86 year old retiree, rode through a storm and hellfire called Superstorm Sandy. October 29, 2012 started out as so many other days had for Anne. She awoke to a meager breakfast in her small comfortable home in Breezy Point, New York, located on the tip Rockaway Peninsula. The peninsula sticks out into the Atlantic like an out-stretched hand and a finger nail on the outer-most finger, surrounded by the Atlantic on its Eastside and Jamaica Bay on its Westside. It is a sandbar that a hearty bunch of Irish Americans made their home in the 1920’s, and incorporated as a cooperative in 1960. It has been a safe haven for mainly working class families in New York City ever since.
But on this day, Sandy worked her way up the Atlantic. The rain fell hard and steady all day. in Breezy Point like it did in other parts of New York City. A mandatory evacuation was ordered. At approximately 2:00 pm, Anne attempted to leave the peninsula assisted by her daughter, Peggy, and her husband, Ray, in their car. They tried, but they couldn’t leave, because the roads were impassable due to rising flood water. They found the water already two feet deep in the area. Sandy wasn’t due to reach landfall at Breezy Point until 7:00pm. They joked with each other as they returned to Annie’s house. They were a little scared and apprehensive over what Sandy might have in store for them.
Ray left the two ladies and went to check on his house. The wind and the rain continued the assault on Anne’s house. Around 7:00 pm Sandy slammed into the tiny community with wind gusts of more than 90 miles an hour. Anne’s house shook and rattled as if it was going to fall off its foundation. The ladies wanted to abandon the house, but there was nowhere to go. The whole community was in the same boat and it appeared to be sinking.
Sandy hit just as the ocean was reaching high tide. It was a full moon high tide which is several feet higher than a normal high tide. Anne’s house was over a half mile from the ocean. The ocean pushed by Sandy came rushing up to meet her house. The power in the house failed. It was pitch black inside and out. The storm winds wailed. The mother and daughter stayed together giving each other strength and comfort. They looked outside and could see fire lighting the sky several blocks away from them. The flames ripped through the storm high into the sky. They heard sirens and a neighbor told them to stay in the house that the volunteer fire department was battling the blaze and would soon have it under control. The ocean surrounding the house was already two feet deep. There was no land anywhere. The ocean that made Anne’s house an island was also impeding the fire departments from fighting the blaze. Fire trucks couldn’t make it through the water. Besides there were other fires raging in Rockaway that also had to be dealt with.
The whole peninsula was under water. It had become part of the Atlantic. The wild, gusting winds spread the fire from one wood framed house to another. At first there were a few houses on fire, then there were ten, then twenty, then fifty, then more. Flames glowed through the storm and lit up the community. With the wind howling the rain, and flames it seemed like hell fire. Anne prayed for the firefighters, police, and her neighbors. She and Peg would periodically check outside only to see the fire coming closer and the water deepening. The water was more than three feet deep. It was reaching the top of Anne’s deck. It was all happening so fast. Too fast.
The water kept climbing; it was coming under her front door pouring into her house. It was like a scene from the Titanic. Anne thought of her mother-in-law Mary Kelly who had boarded the famous ship to come to America. She ended up in a life raft in the icy cold Atlantic. Anne thought she could use a life raft. The ladies decided to move to the second floor of the house to escape the water inundating Anne’s home. They looked outside and saw that the fire was very close now. They could hear the flames laugh and roar. Ashes were buzzing like fireworks through the nightmare storm’s air. The ashes were landing all over starting even more fires. Many ashes were hitting Anne’s house. The ladies decided they didn’t have long before Anne’s house would be ablaze. They had to leave the relative safety of the house. They threw on their coats and headed out seeking shelter and dry, high ground.
They waded holding hands out into the icy black water that was everywhere. Anne said “what’s next sharks?” Peggy said, “I’m never watching shark week again, or the weather channel!” The water felt like liquid ice around them. They were soaked to the bone. The water was chest high and running like a river. It pulled and tugged at them. Ashes from the fire whipped at their faces, their hair and bodies. The flames danced in the sky and on the water. It seemed as if the water was on fire. They were walking half blind from the stark change from complete darkness to blazing fire. They couldn’t see what they were walking on. Anne fell. She went down under the frigid water. She could taste the salt water in her mouth. Peggy held tight to her mom. She pulled as Anne righted herself and stood back up.
She rose from the water with a smile on her face, “I needed that”. Peggy just had to laugh. The two ladies waddled on through Sandy’s rage. They knew not where they were going but they knew they had to keep going. They made it to the community parking lot. To their dismay they saw it was now an ocean filled with sunken automobiles. The Atlantic was up to roofs of the cars. The cars drifted and bobbed around like ice cubes in a drink. They looked around for help, for any signs of life. They saw none. They only saw Sandy and the fire raging. They felt very alone, As if they were the only people alive, adrift in the middle of the Atlantic. They felt like Mary Kelly.
Peggy knew she had to get her mother to shelter. Being a nurse she knew that hyperthermia and shock could set in quickly. Her mother could have an injury that she might not be feeling due to an adrenaline rush and the serious of the situation they were in. Peggy spotted a pickup truck in the middle of the ocean. They made their way over to it. She helped her mom into the bed of the truck. It was wet but it was better then being in water that was chest high. In the distance she thought she could see a light in a house. A light that didn’t appear to be a fire. After a brief discussion she left Anne in the truck and went through the cold black water to the house to see if it was occupied and she could get some help. Both women were wondering if they’d see each other again.
Peg had made all the right moves. There were people in the house, and they wanted to help. Anne was soon saved from her life raft. Ann and Peg were given shelter and warm dry clothes. Anne’s house burned to the ground shortly after they had left it. There was absolutely nothing left of Anne’s life. Every single item she owned, every keepsake, photograph, memory erased by fire by Sandy. Except her most important items her family, her friends, and her community. Breezy Point lost almost five hundred homes that night, close to one hundred and fifty to fire. Sandy killed over a hundred people in the United States and close to three hundred in several countries.
Anne moved from apartment to apartment for the past year. Spreading good cheer everywhere she went. Peg and Ray were with her because their own home was destroyed by Sandy’s flood waters. They just recently got back into their house and took Anne in with them. Anne is having a new house built, which she hopes will be completed by Saint Patrick’s Day for a big party.
The community was originally made up of summer bungalows, as time progressed resident winterized the bungalows, and went from summer residents to permanent year round residents. They enjoyed the secluded beaches, fishing, swimming, boating, surfing, hiking the dunes less then an hour from Manhattan’s mad world. They enjoyed their seclusion and the safety it provided. There is only one road in and out of the community, visitors have to stop at a security booth and state their purpose for entering the community. No valid purpose no admittance. Crime has been virtually nonexistence in the community. Everyone knows their neighbors and their neighbors kids, people look out and take care of each other. Despite being a small community it has four churches for its mostly Catholic residents. Houses in the community are basically handed down one generation to the next, and many people in the community are related to each other. Anne Heslin is a fixture in the Breezy Point Community.
Anne moved into the community in the 1970’s with her husband, John Heslin, a police officer in NYPD’s elite Bomb Squad. They renovated a summer bungalow, eventually sold it and had a nice home built at 3 Irving Walk in the community. Anne has lived there ever since. Her three daughters all brought homes in the community too. They all lived within a mile of each other. Anne is extremely active in the Saint Thomas More Church being a member of the golden age, and teaching CCD to fourth graders. She is affectionately known as “Grannie Annie”. Anne would also visit homebound elderly residents and parishioners bringing good cheer, medicine or maybe a snack. Being a spry gal with NASCAR like driving abilities she would also take the lead in carpooling - the golden agers to doctor’s appointments and happenings. She enjoys discussing homilies or church doctrine with priests or anyone who would listen. She loves a good debate or difference of opinion, always being willing to listen the other guy’s point of view. She is up on all current events from Hollywood nonsense to political nonsense.
Anne is avid reader with a love of reading and books; she helped start the Breezy Point Library which of course is located in a hall at Saint Edmund’s Church. Anne is the president of the library which currently doesn’t exist due to being washed out by Sandy. Anne would gather books for the library and set up meet the author programs. She can also be seen in the neighbor putting books out on public benches where people can pick them up and take them home for a read. Or just read a bit as they sit and take a rest from their daily toils.