How a mid-Atlantic hurricane hit Cleveland hard, frustrating many and devastating a forgotten few

Sunk by Sandy 

How a mid-Atlantic hurricane hit Cleveland hard, frustrating many and devastating a forgotten few

As dawn broke across Lake Erie on Oct. 26 last fall, Alexandria Elias was sleeping on her boat at Edgewater Marina and dreaming.

From the depths of REM, her subconscious watched as water flooded the rig and jarred her awake. The lake's own discharge carpeted the boat - a foot or more of water, at least - as a damning mist drenched the walls.

And then she woke up from her nightmare.

***

It was a blustery morning and observant boaters were taking the bellwether in stride, actively preparing for this little thing called Hurricane Sandy that was set to rock New England in the coming days. Cleveland, not a typical hurricane target by any means (nor was New England, for that matter), was likewise bracing for heavy winds, pounding rains and more than a few power outages. Nothing completely outrageous or devastating.

With a strange and esoteric irony, however, Elias' dream became reality just a few days later.

On Oct. 29, as reports of hurricane-wracked damage began sweeping up the east coast, the boaters of the Great Lakes grew nervous. Elias raced to the marina, hoping to move her boat further down the shore or, at the very least, gather her most important belongings. She was met at the gates with irreversible mandates to clear the area, though she begged employees to let her grab her possessions from the boat. She had cash on board and was prepared to pay them on the spot.

The rain, meanwhile, was coming down in sheets. Twenty-foot waves. "You cannot go down there!" Marina employees were trying to ward her off. "Safety first, you know!" Brutal winds were literally smashing into trees along nearby State Route 2. "You're not going out to your dock! You're just not!"

The next morning: carnage along the shore. "The Boathouse," where Elias spent her days and nights fleshing out the model of her budding new business, was submerged. Gone. Her kitchen curtains floated naught but 20 feet from the bobbing tip of the boat. A shoe, bereft of its partner, rode the incoming waves with an air of defeat. Dozens of other shattered boats lined the marina's jagged walkways.

What followed was a week of cold, cold hassle for many. It's clear enough that Cleveland got off relatively easy compared to, say, Atlantic City, but that misses the point. The storm upended livelihoods here in town and left a trail of questions in its wake.

It was a 1980 33-foot Chriscraft Catalina, Elias says. Emphasis on the past tense. And certainly a stark contrast to the yachting world that lines the lakeshore. It was a tidy little rig where she cooked dinners and slept. Where she dreamed.

Elias is living in Lakewood these days, renting half a home far from her former maritime digs. She found support in the local YMCA where she had worked out for years. Her gratitude to the people around her remains immeasurable, she notes, but the wreckage of a life torn asunder by a perfect storm is equally palpable.

"There was so much damage," she says, her voice trailing down a path lit by vivid memories. She had fled to the marina the morning after the hurricane struck - the morning after being shut out by management - to investigate. Other boat owners joined her on the decks, casting forlorn glances toward the tide and running nervous hands through their hair.

As the recovery process began, Elias brought a hired diver along on Nov. 4 to check out the scene, but they were both blocked from the marina before they could get any work done. "I wasn't even entitled to go through or look at or salvage parts to sell," she says, adding that most of her rig ended up in pieces tossed in a dumpster with a melange of other boat-like debris.

Boat owners whose property fell into the sights of the storm are in the difficult position of wanting to put pressure on the state-owned marina and sue for damages from the storm's effects, via the loss of property. But being a state facility, any class action lawsuit against the marina's management would need approval from the state itself. (There is a proposal in the state legislature now to turn over ownership of Edgewater - and the rest of Cleveland Lakefront State Park - to the city of Cleveland.)

It's one of several hurdles in Elias' path since the hurricane struck - a timeline that included being slapped with a $4,200 bill from the marina and a $9,000 bill from the independent salvage company for pulling her wrecked boat out of the water.

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