Amid the cleanup in Howard Beach Tuesday, some residents said they were not adequately warned about the severity of the storm, which caused the normally calm basins in the neighborhood to swell by more than 10 feet.
Howard Beach was among Queens’ hardest hit areas, along with the Rockaways and Broad Channel, according to Fire Department Chief George Haley of the 51st Battalion. The neighborhood is classified as a Zone B evacuation area, meaning that it was expected to experience flooding from only a Category 2 or stronger hurricane. Sandy was classified as a Category 1 hurricane, which only forced the evacuation of lower-lying Zone A areas such as the Rockaways, Broad Channel and Hamilton Beach.
On Saturday, Mayor Bloomberg issued a mandatory evacuation order of Zone A, but the order did not extend to Zone B and C residents, who were encouraged to stay home and make contingency plans.
On 95th Street, Gina Montefuscio stood helplessly in front of her family home surrounded by soggy couches and wet family memorabilia. Montefuscio, a 42-year-old single mother, said that she was not told to leave her two-floor bungalow because she lives outside the evacuation area.
On her street, men and women of all ages could be seen emptying their basements as pipes gushed water onto the streets. Montefuscio’s house, just a few feet from Hawtree Creek, was flooded up to the second floor.
“I salvaged stuff the last time” she said, referring to last year’s flooding by Irene. “This time everything is gone: My pictures are gone, everything is gone. I’ve been crying all day.”
When Irene hit in August 2011, water rose two feet in their basement. With that in mind, she placed sandbags by the doors before the storm, elevated appliances with bricks and set up a water pump. But this time, it wasn’t enough.
On Monday, Montefuscio saw water rush in from the window of her first floor living room as she scrambled with her 15-year-old son C.J. to bring their belongings to safety. She decided to retreat to the second floor when she saw the refrigerator floating in her kitchen.
By that time, the water was up to her waist.
Without electricity or running water, Montefuscio says she nevertheless intends to stay home — in large part due to her father’s disability.
“We’re not bringing our father to a shelter,” said Montefuscio’s sister, Lisa, who came from Long Island to help clean up.
But their dogged search for a generator — she had called 15 people so far — had not yielded any success.
Just a few blocks away, 28-year-old David Silva said he spent two sleepless nights moving furniture and appliances to the second floor of the house that belongs to his father-in-law, William Ryan.
But 14 feet of water engulfed the deck, then the first floor, and eventually made its way to the second floor of the canal-front home.
Ryan, 56, gazed at the debris and broken glass littering his home of 40 years. “I’m selling,” he said. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Ryan and Silva say they wish they had prepared better for the flood. “I would have moved everything from here with a moving truck, had I known,” Ryan said.
Meanwhile, steps away, on 158th Avenue, 65-year-old Joe Barone recounted how he drained water out of his home’s basement with a generator and a pump. Water had receded from his house on Tuesday afternoon, but signs of the flood were still visible. Barone pointed at a faded yellow mark running across his neighbor’s house, imprinted at eye level, a testimony to the heights reached by the flood. From the second floor of his home, he saw water slowly flow into the street until it violently burst into his house through the garage.
“I was afraid,” he said. “We heard a ‘boom’ because of the pressure of water against the garage door.”
Barone, who said he built the house with his own hands two decades ago, has seen other floods. But he was shocked by Sandy.
“They didn’t tell us it was supposed to rise this much,” said Barone. “They didn’t come up to alert us knocking on doors. They came today for the first time.”
Nearby, on Cross Bay Boulevard, rescue vehicles lined up over several blocks and men in uniforms crowded the usually bustling commercial avenue. About 150 National Guard soldiers were deployed in the area, estimated Pvt. Jose Otero, clad in his light beige Army outfit.
James Jacobs, a spokesperson for the Fire Department, said the amount of damage due to the flood remained undetermined. “We’re going door to door,” he said. “It’s going to be a long rescue and recovery process.”