Decision To Stay In Apartment Led To 'Total Chaos,' Losing 'EverythinBY LAUREN HENRY
When Superstorm Sandy hit the coast of Staten Island on Monday night, Greene County native Amber Scott escaped with her life, her dog, and her cell phone -- nothing else.
"I grabbed my dog, grabbed my phone and tried to get out the door," she remembered. "At first it didn't open. The water was pushing it, slamming it shut, and the water kept rising," the 2007 South Greene High School graduate said in a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun this week.
For the past two years, Scott has been living in a basement apartment in Staten Island in the South Beach area near the north shore, directly across from Manhattan.
"She is a girl from South Greene (High School) that wanted to go to the Big Apple, and I respect that," said her father Jerry Scott, of Greeneville.
The elder Scott vividly remembers the night of the storm.
"She actually talked to her mom at 7:24 -- I know because we looked at the phone -- and she said the wind was howling, but everything was fine.
By 7:39 p.m. she called back crying hysterically that she had to wade through waist-deep water to get to dry land."
For the younger Scott, her life changed in the span of minutes.
The Sun was able to interview her by telephone on Wednesday afternoon.
Scott said she knew staying in her basement apartment was risky, but she made the decision not to evacuate.
"Where would I go?" she asked.
She recalled that she had evacuated in 2011 for Hurricane Irene but only experienced wet, damaged flooring -- which could have been prevented had she been there to pump out the water.
"My landlord made the decision that he's staying, and if anything happened, he's there, and I would go upstairs and wait out the storm there," said Scott about her decision not to move out temporarily in advance of the storm.
"I live a few blocks from the boardwalk and the ocean so we expected water and flooding -- we never dreamed it could reach 11, 12 feet high."
The night of the storm, Scott said, she was relaxing in her apartment, just waiting for the howling winds to die down and life to return to calm.
Then her cell phone rang. It was a neighbor she had met only a few days earlier.
"Come outside, bring your dog, and move your truck up the block because the water is coming up the block," she was told.
"By the time I turned around and hung up the phone, the ocean water burst through the front door," Scott said. "It was either get my dog and get out or be stuck in there."
Scott pushed against her door only to find the weight of the water pressing the door shut and holding her captive. So she waited while the water swirled in through crevices to begin to fill the room around her.
"When the water was knee-deep, I finally got the door open and got the dog out and upstairs," she told the Sun.
She rushed back to the entryway of her apartment to see if anything could be saved, but the water was rising too quickly and the danger of electrocution too great, she said.
There was nothing she could do to save anything else.
"It looked like a river -- a huge, wide, massive river," she said of the flood that completely submerged her apartment.
"I saw cars floating in the water and hitting other cars ... I saw lots of trees, lots of debris. It was just a mess."
Scott's own SUV was submerged but somehow didn't join the floating parade of destroyed vehicles.
"It was just total chaos," she said.
She returned to the relative safety of her landlord's upstairs apartment and waited out the rest of the nightmare.
"We lit some candles and watched the water level," she said.
Volunteers came in boats to take the elderly and sick to safety, she said, but those who were healthy stayed.
Back in Greeneville, Amber's family could do little but wait.
"I didn't feel hopeless, but helpless," her father said. "I'm a guy that's used to managing situations for people ... This is very uncommon, uncharted water for me."
"I guess if you would ask me what I felt when she called back at nine, it would be: 'thankful that someone had done what I would have done -- they took her in, and she's not family, but they took her in, and gave her shelter from the storm.'"
'THANKFUL TO BE ALIVE'
When daybreak finally came, Amber returned to the doorway of her apartment on Staten Island to assess what "Sandy" had left in her wake.
"First thing I saw when I opened the door were pictures floating to me," she said. "As much as I wanted to dive in and start grabbing things, I couldn't."
The danger of possible electrocution remained, along with the five feet of ocean and sewer water in her apartment.
"The water rose all the way up to my ceiling so the entire apartment is gone. The floor is ripped up, the walls falling down, all my furniture, all of my things, all of my clothes, my roommate's things ... Everything we have is gone. It's just gone."
"I'm very thankful to be alive."
"I'm upset and devastated -- I have nothing -- but it was a matter of one minute to be alive or not to be alive ...We're gonna make it."
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Now it is a matter of picking up the pieces, and Amber is not alone in her devastation.
Three days after Sandy slammed the mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast, New York and New Jersey continue to struggle back toward some kind of normalcy.
"Everyone is kinda pulling together," Scott said.
She herself is staying with friends on Staten Island who weren't hit as hard by the superstorm -- and their house even still has electricity.
Her dog has been placed temporarily with other friends who can care for the canine while Scott rebuilds her life.
After the first night, Scott said a stranger gave her a ride to go buy essentials.
Her employer, Sears, bought her some clothes and assured her that her job is safe while she gets back on her feet.
"Anything [my family] can do from 12 hours away, they are doing to help," she said.
LONG ROAD TO NORMAL
It is a long road to normal, but Scott has the support of family and friends.
In Greeneville, her father, her mother, Sheri Scott, and her younger sister, Bethany Scott, pray and worry about Amber.
"I don't think we turned off the Weather Channel much in the last few days," Jerry Scott said.
Jerry Scott himself became a very familiar name locally when he won the "Greeneville's Greatest!" contest for his singing at the Greene County Fair in 2011.
His youngest daughter, Bethany, is a freshman at Walters State Community College.
Persons interested in helping Amber Scott may contact her father at 278-0102 to find out how to go about it.