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Queens Chronicle

HURRICANE SANDY: THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY The new normal in Howard Beach

Residents struggle with finances, flood mitigation, painful memories

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Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:46 am, Thu Oct 31, 2013.

From Sara Barbera’s kitchen, the view outside the great window is like a painting canvas. The crystal blue water of Hawtree Creek, the vivid green of the coastal flora, the white clouds shimmering in front of the seemingly endless blue sky. It could be easily mistaken for a painting if not for the moving water or flying birds.

But if everything has a downside, Barbera’s is that her house bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge one year ago.

Several feet of water flooded her entire first floor, destroying her kitchen, bedrooms, living room, dining room and bathroom decorated with ornate antique furniture. A month after the storm, Barbera’s home was gutted, her walls ripped open, her soggy furniture still strewn about where the tide left it.

Today, few traces remain. Her kitchen has been rebuilt. Her furniture was replaced. Her home is habitable again. But the comeback wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t fully complete. Because she suffered some damage in Irene in 2011 and received more than $8,000 then and did not have flood insurance when Sandy hit, Barbera got no help from the Federal Emergency Management Service. She sought help from other sources, but found none and paid for her entire recovery out of her pocket.

“I didn’t get a dime,” she said.

Barbera applied for FEMA funds anyway and her case is still being reviewed. She wasn’t able to get back into her home until the late spring and had to rent an apartment nearby for several months while her home was being reconstructed.

“I’ll get it if they let me pay quarterly,” she said of the insurance. “I can’t pay one lump sum.”

Though most residents in Howard Beach received funds from FEMA — cumulatively more than any other community hit by Sandy in the country — for many it was not enough, and some still have not received any help.

Perhaps the biggest problem residents have complained of in the past year was dealing with insurance companies.

In July, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) brought up an issue at a town hall meeting at St. Helen’s Father Dooley Hall how an insurance company was denying a claim to a constituent of his whose house was flooded, even though the damage was not caused by water.

Residents have also been dealing with the slow pace of the city’s Build It Back program.

Nevertheless, on the front yards of the hard-hit community, water-logged furniture and flooring have been replaced by decorations for the holiday the neighborhood was deprived of last year — Halloween.

“We didn’t have Halloween last year, so this year it’s special,” said Howard Beach resident Nick Colavito, who decked out his 84th Street house with spooky and gory decor for the holiday.

For Barbera, however, the memories of last October remain strong. Sitting in her kitchen, she shook her head at the thought of the storm and it’s aftermath and gave a dire warning.

“It’ll happen again,” she said. “Maybe not as bad as Sandy, but there will be another one.”

See more Hurricane Sandy anniversary coverage in the South Queens section.

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