“Holy #&!@. I lost my cable!”
For Samuel Epstein, a 32-year AAPG member and delegate for New York state and surrounding areas who resides in an area that was ravaged by nature’s horrific forces, that’s when he knew the now infamous Hurricane Sandy was serious.
(If you’re asking yourself, “Only then?” you’re not alone.)
“I’m watching television,” he recalls, “and then … nothing.”
First, a little history.
Before Epstein’s house was turned over to insurance adjusters, he lived in Rockaway Beach in New York, situated on the Rockaway Peninsula in New York City, in the borough of Queens.
It is on the South Shore of Long Island – and in late October it was Sandy’s WELCOME mat.
The smart ones residing there evacuated.
Now senior vice president of investments and wealth management adviser for Merrill Lynch, Epstein, who has a master’s in geology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – that connection matters to this story – had been a senior petroleum geologist for Cities Service Oil and Gas and Getty Oil.
He also is president of Geoval Consultants in New York City, and executive director/consultant to Touro College regarding its Department of Earth and Environmental Studies.
He also has had more than 27 publications in referenced scientific journals concerning petroleum exploration, production and – wait for it – in the September 2007 issue of the Journal of Carbonates and Evaporites, the effects of global warming on sea level changes.
He knows, he knows ...
So why didn’t he evacuate when he heard the warnings of Sandy’s fast-approaching arrival?
He laughs about it now (sort of).
Two words: Irene and stubbornness.
“Previous experience worked against me,” he said from his cellphone, weeks after the event, as he waits, yes, for the cable guy.
“Look,” he says, only a bit defensively. “I had lived through Hurricane Irene. They told us to leave. We (he and his wife, Peggy) did – we spent two nights in a hotel in Manhattan, but the storm was a dud. It was a non-event; so when they told us again to leave days before Sandy, I said, ‘#*&^ that!’”
To talk to Epstein is to feel like you’re talking to Bobby Bacala from The Sopranos; he’s funny, acerbic, laughs loud and grew up on the lower East Side of Manhattan Island.
“We had no heat, tenement lifestyle ... Far from the masses, far from the elitists,” he says of his childhood.
He talks of it with warmth and fondness.
This too: he’s a devoted Jew, fluid in the Talmud, the text of Jewish law.
All of that plays into this story, too; all of that changed.
Epstein doesn’t scare easily, so when authorities told him to leave, he told them where they could put their evacuation.
“So what happened,” he says, his accent as thick as a corned beef sandwich from NYC’s famed Carnegie Deli, “is I told Peggy, I told the authorities, ‘We’re not going through this again. We’re staying home.’ And the city said, ‘Fine, you want to stay, you’re on your own.’ Then, they evacuated, but not before saying, ‘Do not, DO NOT, call us. We’re not coming for you.”
Hours later, he saw the barometric pressure at 940 mb, a number he had never seen before.
“This wasn’t good.”
And the bridge off the island was closed – nobody in or out – and a crazy storm was coming.
“Yeah, I had been watching the Weather Channel, but when I saw that reading, I knew I had miscalculated.”
Then, the power went out and I thought to myself, ‘Now, pal, you’re &$@%#^.’”
The storm started to howl, and he started thinking of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire:”
“At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet/
And a freight train running through the
Middle of my head”
He felt that train – and he saw the ocean coming down the street, so he went down to his basement to check the conditions. His Anderson Windows held, he says, but water was coming in from … the walls.
It was all gone.
Numerous amounts of priceless maps, first edition books and, worse, work he did with his old friend, his mentor from RPI, the late Gerald Friedman.
Friedman, whom Epstein calls the father of geology in Israel, brought Epstein into geology, brought him to Israel to work in the Eliat. He gave the eulogy when Friedman died, and now their work together – papers, research, maps, charts – was floating like fish in a bowl.
“He molded me,” Epstein says of his mentor.
The more he sloshed around the basement, the more he saw what was no more.
“The full collection of Talmud,” Epstein says of the text of Jewish law he owned. “There were treasures, too. Gone.”
He takes a breath. And then like a fighter shaking off a bad round, Epstein comes out, swinging.
“But it’s irrelevant. It’s gone, it’s gone.”
He made his way upstairs; Peggy was still downstairs, hoping to grab a valuable flash drive, when the water burst through the back door.
“The door came at her like a surf board,” he said.
They moved upstairs.
“If it’s a hurricane during full moon, it’s a perfect storm.”
This was perfect.
From their bedroom window, they could see living room furniture and cars going by on the street below. Twelve-foot waves were breaking against houses.
“If I die,” I thought, “I’m going to die,” says the man who lived through both attacks on the World Trade Center – he was in the building both times, 1993 and 2001.
Both times he made his way out.
There was no way out, only up, and he didn’t want to go.
“I didn’t want to go into the attic. There were no windows, I didn’t want to box myself in. The house, the sky, the island was rocking.
“I told my wife it would stop by nine. It has to.”
Not until midnight.
Somehow, he fell asleep, at around three that morning. When he looked out the next morning, he saw a NO STANDING sign covered in water. It was 13 feet tall.
He made his way outside. A refrigerator was floating by; his two cars were underwater.
It was just day one.
The next days were a blur. No power, no heat, no cable.
“No cable, no reason to live, right?” he asks.
There was no telephone service, no Chinese delivery.
But then his cell rang.
As if out of a movie, it was Gerald Friedman’s daughter, Judy Rosen, who lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., which is farther inland.
Before the hurricane even arrived she had asked if he needed a place to stay.
Now, he needed a place, period. His house was full of sand and ocean and floating memories – and the Friedman family once again was about to be an important part of his life.
Epstein’s son was able to get through to Sam and Peggy’s house, put them in his car and drove them to the Rosen’s residence – where they stayed for a week.
As far as the Rosen’s were concerned, they could have stayed for a year.
“It’s the kind of people they are,” Epstein says of Stuart and Judy Rosen.
“There were 14 people in their household for seven days,” says the man who, once again, recalled the tenement on the east side of Manhattan and all the families living together, also out of necessity.
Of both times, he says, “it was beautiful.”
Epstein has moved to Brooklyn, where he’ll likely be for at least a year.
And sure, he regrets not leaving when he had the chance – but he maintains, “Previous experience worked against me.”
And that article on sea level change that he wrote for the 2007 Journal of Carbonates and Evaporites? He plans on writing an update.
But for now, Peggy is safe, his friends, his three children, two grandchildren – all safe.
Something else is, too.
“Did you hear?” he asks. “A guy on Rockaway had a Torah that washed away. They found it two hours later two blocks away in a swimming pool.”
And then he laughs. You can hear him smile.
He has to go.
The cable guy has arrived.