“We got people breaking into houses. I hope they come back. It’s been a while since I shot somebody.”
Men in hoodies splashed through knee-deep water in galoshes, shouting, trying to start a chainsaw. They worked at DeGarmo’s Boat Yard in Babylon, New York, on the south shore of Long Island. The yard was a wreckage heap of hulls and masts, boats on top of boats. The men were trying to get a swamped, broken dock out of the way—probably it had washed into the yard from somewhere else—so they could begin to salvage their destroyed boats.
It was Wednesday afternoon, two days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, and I was driving around the south shore near Babylon, which took a direct hit from the storm buffered only by Fire Island, where journalists are not yet allowed and where recovery efforts are still underway. My guide, Chris Padden, a Long Island wilderness search-and-rescue team leader, leaned out of his Ford F-150. “You guys need a chainsaw? I got a chainsaw.”
“This guy’s got a chainsaw!”
Padden, who is 39 and has a military-style buzz cut, hopped out, threw on camouflage waders, grabbed the chainsaw, and sloshed through shin-deep water to hack up the dock. I watched, as did 20 or so marina employees around me. I had my tape recorder and notebook with me, and, feeling a sense of obligation to my job, I asked a tall man standing near me what his name was.
“What’s this for?” he asked.
“I’m with Outside magazine,” I replied.
He looked down. “I don’t, I don’t want to—”
“I’m so sorry,” I said and went back to Padden’s truck, where I ditched my notebook and recorder. We heard sirens; a fire-department chief rolled up in a new SUV. Crew cut, tan. I approached another of the dockworkers and offered to help. “There’s nothing to do,” he said. “We’re getting shut down.” The fire department soon arrived in full. There was a gas leak in a nearby house, and the DeGarmo’s guys were ordered to stop their salvage mission. Padden’s saw went silent; he’d finished cutting up the broken dock, but no one would be getting to the boats anytime soon. Another dockworker, who looked to be in his forties, sloshed through the water in rubber boots. I asked if he was doing OK. He didn’t turn to meet my eye.