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Sandy victims fins help and hope on Daniel Island
Nov 14, 2012 - 9:09:56 AM

Bob and Carol Parkman had certainly experienced storm-induced rising waters before in their coastal New York community of Broad Channel in Queens. But nothing like what Hurricane Sandy brought on October 29. On that frightening night, as Jamaica Bay off the Atlantic Ocean swirled in and around homes that have been part of this close-knit community for decades, Bob and Carol nervously gathered with friends to wait it out.  
Nearly 800 miles south on Daniel Island, the Parkman’s son, Rob, contemplated his parents’ fate and feared for the worst. Just last month, Rob and his wife, Nicole, had relocated to Center Park on Daniel Island with their three young children from New Jersey. Rob, a retired New York City fireman, knew the dangers his parents faced.  As the storm approached, Bob, Carol and others on their street crowded into a neighbor’s home for safety. Soon, they found themselves on the third floor, after rising waters pushed into the house’s main level.
“When they got to the third floor, the house was shaking,” recalled Rob. “They said once the eye passed, then the bottom portion of the hurricane came through and it was a totally different storm.”
“They were watching cars and boats float down the block from the windows of the house,” added Nicole. “It was too late to get out. The water was already past the door. They were stuck.”
It would be many agonizing hours before Rob would hear from his parents.
“We thought for sure they were dead,” said Nicole.
“We didn’t get through until the next morning,” added Rob. “And even then, the service was really bad. I spoke to my mother for about 30 seconds.”
Rob’s parents’ home had filled with six feet of water. Although the structure remained, everything inside was lost. Both their cars had been carried away by the flood waters.
“All of the homes there don’t have natural gas,” said Rob. “They all use either oil or propane tanks. All of the oil tanks ruptured so all the water that came in was permeated with oil. It created a real toxic environment.”
Transformers also started blowing all over the neighborhood during the storm. In nearby Breezy Point, New York, located just a few miles from the Parkman’s home in Broad Channel, raging fires would claim more than 100 homes.  
“The firemen, their trucks couldn’t get through because of the water,” added Nicole. “So they actually stood and watched the homes burn and they couldn’t even help.”
The situation for those in the Parkman’s community was dire, but Rob’s parents still wanted to stay in their home of 35 years, even without heat and electricity.  A childhood friend, also a fireman, called Rob and told him that despite what his parents were telling him, it would be best to come and get them out to safety as soon as possible.
“He said don’t even listen to them,” recalled Rob. “Your father is sitting on a damp couch, your house is filled with oil. It’s just a matter of time before they get sick.”
After a quick trip to Costco to stock up on supplies, such as generators, heaters, gasoline and batteries, Rob hit the road for New York.
“We filled up a truck of stuff that we knew they needed,” said Nicole. “And all of our neighbors (on Blakeway Street) started bringing clothes over for them!”
Another neighbor, Traci Black, took charge of organizing a donation drive to collect furniture and other supplies for Bob and Carol’s arrival. Rob and Nicole rented an apartment for them on the island, while Traci worked to make it comfortable for the storm-weary couple.
“I was not here for Hurricane Hugo,” said Traci, who moved to the Charleston area in 1995. “I have never personally lived through a hurricane myself, but I jumped right in to help because I could empathize. That could easily be us.”
After driving through the night, Rob made it to his old Broad Channel neighborhood the next morning. Some of the homes are now structurally unsound, he said, and others had been lifted right up off their foundations.
“The water was so powerful,” he said. “I haven’t been through anything like this before…I got there about 7 in the morning and the neighborhood was still dark. You couldn’t see anything. It was just dark and eerie…and it smelled like the back of a garbage truck. Garbage was piled up about 12 feet high up and down the streets. And then when I got to my mom’s house, all my neighbors started coming out and they were all bundled up.”
Rob distributed the supplies he brought and helped his mother and father gather what little they had, including their two cats, before departing for Daniel Island.
“She walked out with a couple of really damp pictures of the kids, and that was about it,” he said.  
With Traci’s help, friends donated a television, table, daybed, futon, pots and pans, and other supplies to help make the Parkman’s new apartment on Daniel Island feel like home (they needed their own space because Nicole is severely allergic to cats). Daniel Island Animal Hospital took in Carol’s beloved pets and nursed them back to health.  
“If anything has brightened (Carol’s) mood since she got down here it’s that her cats were cared for,” said Nicole.   
Both Nicole and Rob have been overwhelmed at the generosity shown by their new Daniel Island community.
“I think the bright spot is the people coming together to help,” said Nicole. “It gives you this sense of community…People in these kinds of circumstances get together and help each other…It’s amazing and touching.”
“And it’s reinforced everything we’ve always heard about Daniel Island,” added Rob. “They’ve treated us like gold.”
But the best part of the story, said Rob, is that his parents are safe and sound.
“They’re alive. Honestly, stuff is just stuff. It’s replaceable. But they made it through. I think the difference here (on Daniel Island) is a neighbor told us ‘when a hurricane comes, we’re gone. You lock the door and you leave.’”
“You take everything that’s important and you go,” added Nicole. “You don’t second guess it.”
On November 22, the Parkman family will all be together for their very first Daniel Island Thanksgiving celebration. And this year, perhaps more than any other, they’ll be sure to count their many blessings.

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