During Hurricane Sandy, Neighbors Save Neighbors on McLaughlin Street
Ben Brown always carries a tiger's-eye stone on him. The golden red-brown mineral symbolizes peace and balance -- something he needs a lot of these days. Hoping to bring some sort of universal positive energy his way, he takes the stone out occasionally and rubs its smooth surface.
Renée Jacques Ben Brown and Sal Galati embrace after seeing each other for the first time since Ben saved him.
"I've been really trying to get into this spirituality stuff recently," the NYU graduate student says. "I kind of feel like, when it rains, it pours. Well, it's been fucking pouring all year on me."
He has had a year of losses: a job in California, his apartment in New York, and almost his father -- to brain cancer. Ben is only 24.
Ben moved into 58 McLaughlin Street in Sandy Beach, Staten Island, a week before Hurricane Sandy hit.
On that fateful Sunday, Ben spent the day unpacking. His roommates, Jordan, Adam, and Dominick, were all pretty calm. Ben had never lived through a hurricane before, but his roommates had lived in New York and had experienced Hurricane Irene's underwhelming influence. He was told it might get a little windy and rainy. Everything would be cool.
But the wind kept howling. Ben tried to block it out of his mind.
"We just played cards and hung out throughout the night," Ben says. "We didn't really worry or pay attention to anything."
At around 7 p.m., Ben looked out his window. The street was flooded. There must have been about two or three feet of water at this time. He and his roommates decided they might want to go get some food, in case the power went out. They opened the front door and walked through the water to Adam's car. They all piled in and drove through the town. Everything was closed.
"Once we saw everything boarded up, we realized this may be pretty serious," Ben says.
They pulled into a police station down the street to inquire about shelters and were told it was too late. They were all full.
"Go back," the policeman said to them. "You're better off just going back to your house and waiting it out."
When they got back, at around 10 p.m., the water was up to the rib cage of Ben's six-foot-two body as he trudged up to his apartment. He thought the only thing he could do at this point was go up to his room on the second floor of his building to sleep and wait it out. He got into his pajamas and slipped into his sleeping bag. Just 15 minutes later, Adam came running up the stairs, barged through Ben's door, and asked him frantically "How would you like to save a life tonight?"