2013-10-25 / Community

SANDY One Year Later ...

Displaced Persons: No Place Like Home
By Dan Guarino

The storm carried them as far away as California, Florida and Texas. The displaced population of Rockaway and Broad Channel found themselves living, either temporarily or long term, in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and other parts of New York when Sandy wrecked their houses or otherwise turned them out of their living spaces. According to the Geneva based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a leading international body which tracks large population movements within countries due to events like catastrophes and conflict, the storm affected 24 states, forcing more than 776,000 people out of their homes. Closer to home these included nursing home residents whose facilities were battered by the storm, and renters and homeowners whose homes were either destroyed or faced large scale reconstruction.

Just a few months ago, residents of two Broad Channel blocks estimated a good 50-60 percent of their neighbors were still away from home.

There and across the Peninsula, people stayed with friends, moved in with relatives, lived in shelters and hotels, rented ‘temporary’ apartments or made other makeshift living arrangements.

It was not uncommon for families to be spread out over several locations, with children living and going to schools in one area, while parents commuted to jobs and back to the Rockaways to work on their homes.

In the months since the storm many have been able to return to the area. Twelve months later some are just now coming back, others are still unable to return home. Still others may never come back. On that long road back home, many people discovered new places and neighborhoods, encountered new experiences and came away with different perspectives.

Here are the experiences of a few of those who were effectively homeless after the storm.

Jessica Allen, a lifelong resident of Broad Channel, and her husband Jack, who moved into the neighborhood in 2002 (“the greatest decision I ever made,” he says), did not evacuate before the storm. Jack Allen explains, “The Allen crew, along with the Grosses, and Mertzes stayed in BC during the storm, but not in our homes.”

“We took refuge at the Broad Channel Athletic Club building because of its second floor.” As the tide rolled in and the wind intensified, the situation became very scary. “The surge came so quick that by the time I realized the electric would be hit, it was too late to go downstairs to turn it off.”

“This became the single most terrifying experience I ever encountered. We could see the fires in Rockaway. We had Jessica’s grandmother Mrs. Tuffy, and her pregnant sister, as well as children ages 1-12 with us. I will never forget the fear I had, and the anxiety over how we would survive if God forbid the building caught fire....thankfully it did not.” In Rockaway, Sophia Skeans and her husband Pat could see the fires in Belle Harbor through the wind, rain and rising tide.

“It was unbearable,” she recalled. “As the fire spread and moved down the road, I could not tell where it was located. It seemed to be near Beach 126th Street.”

Dorothy Fraher, who’s lived on Broad Channel’s 14th Road all her life, her family having move there in the early 1920’s, recalled “what my mother told me about her experiences in the Hurricane of 38.” So she turned off her electric, tied down her propane tanks and “took pictures of the inside of the house just in case.” Around 5 a.m., she said she “got in the car and we fled to my stepsisters Maureen and Linda, in Uniondale arriving at 7 a.m.” Later she got intermittent reports from neighbors.

On East 6th Road, Barbara and Fred Toborg found themselves evacuating to the second floor of their house which overlooks the A train and Jamaica Bay.

By the next morning, the storm had clearly left its damage. Fraher noted “you can’t grasp the shock unless you see it yourself.

“Although there were boats, etc., in the street, I was amazed that the outside of everyone’s house looked OK - no broken windows - hiding the fact that the inside was destroyed.”

The following days and weeks brought changes for all.

“After the storm we were nomads for the better part of two weeks,” Jack Allen said, “The first night we stayed with my father and his friend in Forest Hills.

“After that my family of six was scattered in three different areas of Long Island.”

“I stayed in Broad Channel, gutting my home and the homes of my friends and family. I slept where I could, whoever had the driest bed and the best generator.”

“The heartbreak and despair of my family not being together after the storm is something Jessica and I still feel to this day.” Eventually, he says, they settled into a studio apartment on Shore Front Parkway on Veterans Day, 2012. “We lived there “comfortably” until Labor Day, when we finally moved home.”

“It breaks our heart to know that some of our friends are still not home.”

Leaving her Rockaway apartment behind, Sophia Skeans explains she “made it to a cousin’s country house in New Jersey and then to Astoria-East Elmhurst. It was a blessing that I had a cousin’s house in New Jersey and then a blessing of my husband’s friend’s house in East Elmhurst.”

“We will soon be re-locating again.”

After some moving around, the Toborg’s were finally able to move in with friends in Far Rockaway.

Eventually, after some months when electricity and partial heat was restored, they were able to move back into the second floor of their home while the first floor was being rebuilt.

Fraher remembers “after that first week staying at my sister’s, along with eight other people who were affected by the storm, I was invited to stay at my best friend Diana’s sister Roseann’s house for as long as needed. (She) lives in Massapequa and was wonderful and so supportive for over five months — Going shopping for beds, furniture, appliances, TVs and everything else.”

“I was also able to use the Farmingdale library for my computer and reading needs.” With the help of Mormons and other volunteers, work progressed on Fraher’s home.

By mid-April her stepsisters arranged for a surprise “housewarming party” at their house, with 20 friends providing all the “essentials for moving back in.”

“Things that you take for granted each day,” she said, like sheets, towels, plates and utensils.

Having now returned, Fraher looks back on her experiences and says “I say over and over to myself — there’s no place like home.”

Jack and Jessica Allen reflected, “For years, our goal was to add a second floor to our home. With Hurricane

Sandy taking care of the demo, we decided to go ahead and finally do it.”

“We have taken the worst possible situation we could be in and turned it into a positive.”

“One thing about being out of our home, it is that the experience has brought the Allen family so much closer to each other, and it has made us a stronger family.”

Of her own displaced experience, Sophia Skeans noted, that while she has enjoyed encountering new places, cultures and people. “The main issue I have with my re-location is there is no neighborhood like Rockaway; the people are friendly, warm and have such pride and passion for the ocean front coast line.

“I have certainly experienced a plethora of feelings ranging from deep sadness to moments of anger but realizing that we are all on a journey and that life is like an ocean wave, sometimes it is easy to coast along and then those powerful waves come crashing and pounding on the beach and we are truly powerless.” Speaking about life after Sandy, she compares it to a quote from novelist Amy Tan writing about love, “It moves you like the tide. It takes you out to sea, and then lays you on the beach again.”

Today’s struggling pain is the foundation for a certain stride through the heavens. You can run from it but you can never say no. It includes everyone.”

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