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Small Businesses, Social Media Saved My Town During Hurricane Sandy

LONG BEACH, N.Y. (TheStreet) -- It's taken me a week to be able to sit down at my computer and peck out words between an evacuation, a clean-up and the emotional trauma of surviving a hurricane like Sandy. It's not one I'll ever forget.

I live in Long Beach, N.Y., a coastal community located on a barrier island on the south shore of Long Island. I've lived here for the better part of 11 years, and the reason I love it so much is not only for the beautiful ocean views from my apartment located right on the Atlantic, but for the strong sense of community encouraged in the town.

About 30,000 people live in Long Beach. Before the storm, it was usual to see joggers at all hours of the day on the 2-mile boardwalk, riders on their cruiser bicycles, surfers in the water (even in the dead of winter) and locals wearing flip flops year-round. Between the limitless benefits, road races, summer music concerts on the beach, happy hours in popular bars in the West End and the annual Polar Bears Super Bowl Splash in the winter, the residents and businesses of this town have created a sense of connection, comfort and security.

The lobby of an apartment building in Long Beach mangled by Hurricane Sandy.

But Hurricane Sandy put Long Beach to the test.

The weather forecasts weren't wrong when they warned of dangerous storm surges and massive flooding. I was one of many people who stayed in town during the storm. (I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building about 20 feet from the ocean and assumed the storm would be similar to Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.)

I wish that were the case. During the worst of the storm, I watched water, 4-feet high, rush through the streets. Large chunks of our beloved boardwalk were ripped off by the wind and carried by the surge up my block. My building and the one near me have apartments on the ground floor. One poor soul had his door forced open by the surge, so besides flooding, he had tons of sand enter his apartment. Car alarms kept sounding off all night by those unlucky enough to leave cars parked in the lots closest to the water. They floated around like bumper cars crashing into one another.

Tuesday morning after the storm, I decided to head outside to survey the damage, since my apartment had none. What I saw shocked me. It was similar to Hurricane Katrina photos.

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Those who live in ground-floor apartments came back to absolute ruin. Many of my closest friends have had to throw out their most personal possessions because of the flooding. The boardwalk now has huge gaps, and it is unsafe to walk on. Sand was piled as high as the ground-floor windows. The beach was literally in my lobby as the doors and windows broke open from the strong surge. Anyone who had a car in Long Beach, no matter where it was parked, was soaked on the inside. Businesses, no matter how far from the ocean, had at least some water damage. Our power, water and sewer still remain out of order.

In those first days, it felt like the town would be permanently ruined. But that strong sense of community started to peak almost immediately. And, quite frankly, this could not be done without the power of social media.

I have received all of my information about my town and resources like FEMA and the Red Cross to help through the evacuation process and recovery via social media. The City of Long Beach's Facebook and Twitter pages have been at a fever pitch, with constant updates on getting our town livable again.

An unofficial, yet informative, resource is the Facebook page Long Beach, NY Hurricane Information. Although it was set up little more than a week ago, more than 10,000 people have liked the page, which offers by-the-minute updates and messages.

Two people have even set up a crowd-sourcing page on Indiegogo -- Rebuild Long Beach. The creators are looking to raise $100,000 by Christmas to help the people of Long Beach who were most hurt.

And community members are sharing as much as possible through Facebook. To know there are others going through the same experience and emotions as I am, even though I've had to temporarily relocate to another part of Long Island, has made the process of dealing with this disaster a million times better.

Being a small-business reporter, once I secured safety for myself and my cat (big thanks to my boyfriend and his father for helping me), my thoughts turned to the businesses that have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. And I keep remembering a statistic that was told to me that more than 25% of small businesses affected by a natural disaster never reopen their doors.

In New York and New Jersey, that number is likely to be higher, especially as power continues to be down in many areas. There's a severe gas shortage, and now another coastal storm is coming Wednesday. Small businesses typically don't have the cash reserves to sustain an extended closing (while losing product, such as spoiled food). A natural disaster can sink a business.

But the resiliency I've seen over the past week by local businesses has been uplifting, especially as the nation talks about the fragility of our small-business economy and how important hiring and supporting these businesses is during a difficult economy.