Reinventing After You Lose Everything

A devastating fire and hurricane wiped out all these two women had. Then they got to work, rebuilding their lives

by Dana Hudepohl
Photograph: Morgan Rachel Levy

Just how much the book was needed became apparent in June 2012, when a wildfire swept through a different section of the mountains, destroying 259 homes. She went to evacuation headquarters at the local fairgrounds and saw 1,000 people waiting anxiously for news of their property. “Many told me that thanks to my article, they had purchased enough insurance,” says Masterson. She asked the fire chief for the microphone. “I told the survivors that no matter how bad the news, they needed to believe in their hearts that there was light at the end of the tunnel and to let people help,” she says. “You will be OK.” The crowd responded with tears, claps and hugs.

“I didn’t set out to be an example of how to start over, but I’m proud that’s what I’ve become,” Masterson says. “I’ve always been a glass-half-full-of--something-yummy person, and this has re-affirmed to me that you can survive things that are unthinkable.”

Laura DiPasquale: She found a silver lining

Three days after Hurricane Sandy pounded Laura DiPasquale’s neighborhood in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, the National Guard allowed residents to return. As she opened her front door, DiPasquale was greeted by the stench of stagnant seawater. The carpet squished as she walked through the living room, spurting dirty water up onto her legs. “Every time you opened a door—to the washer, dryer, kitchen cabinets—water gushed out,” she says. “It looked like somebody came in, lifted all of our stuff and just threw it everywhere. The front porch railing was destroyed. The chain-link fencing around the backyard was bent. The hot tub that was on the deck? The force of the water had lifted it up and plopped it down nine inches away.”

Two days later, about 50 volunteers showed up to help the family clear away their possessions so the damaged floors and walls could be removed to prevent mold. They filled more than 100 garbage bags and piled them on the front lawn. But the group accidentally threw away undamaged housewares and mementos that had been stored up high, and DiPasquale was heartbroken. For several days, she sat on her front lawn digging through the garbage bags looking for fragments of her family’s life. She retrieved a few bagfuls of objects. One week later, sanitation workers hauled the rest away.

DiPasquale and her husband, Paul, had already experienced one natural disaster. In their twenties, the two New Jersey natives had moved to Los Angeles so that he could go to chiropractic school while she pursued acting. But in 1987, an earthquake so strong that its aftershock threw them out of bed made them change their plans; a year later, they returned to New Jersey. DiPasquale eventually set aside her dream of becoming a performer and started a deejay business. They raised two kids: Jackie, now 20, and Adam, 13. The couple built a two-story Colonial house two blocks from the beach. Over the years, when big storms headed their way, they evacuated. So last October, when Superstorm Sandy threatened to hit, DiPasquale packed up her two dogs, three frogs and a cat, and headed inland to her parents’ house, expecting to be home again in a day or two.

But Sandy turned out to be a once-in-700-years event, and the devastation was unprecedented. Structural engineers discovered that the winds had lifted DiPasquale’s roof, allowing water to seep in. Mold covered the walls and windows, and the couple had to throw out all the belongings they’d left upstairs. In the winter cold, the pipes burst. The van for the deejay business, where they stored the equipment and karaoke discs that had survived the disaster, was burglarized. Then DiPasquale’s father-in-law passed away from bladder cancer. “We were getting so beaten up and beaten down,” DiPasquale says. “We kept asking ourselves, ‘When is a good thing going to happen?’ ”

First published in the November 2013 issue

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