If real estate is all about “location, location, location,” then Sara Barbera’s Howard Beach home would top most anyone’s list.
Located at the corner of 160th Avenue and 100th Street, the back of her home is situated at the northern end of Hawtree Basin and from her kitchen window, there is a clear view down the canal to the Hamilton Beach pedestrian bridge more than a quarter of a mile away. From her back porch, the panoramic view features coastal brush, Hamilton Beach homes across the canal and even hangars at nearby Kennedy Airport.
But if there’s a downside to having a home sitting on a bayside canal, Hurricane Sandy brought it to reality. Barbera’s home — at least the first floor — is uninhabitable after nearly 4 feet of storm surge rushed in on Oct. 29.
The resulting flood devastated every room of the first-floor apartment where she has lived since 1997, nearly destroying her entire home, including antique furniture, a modern kitchen and unique bathroom vanities.
In her backyard, her sodden clothes hang from canopy frames. Brush from the canal still sits on her swimming pool cover. The dock she had behind her home is destroyed. The water washed up a few boats and a Jet Ski into her driveway, which Barbera said were claimed a few days later.
Since the hurricane one month ago, Barbera stays on her second floor with her sister and aging mother. Their home was high enough to escape damage from the storm surge, but without power and heat, the family lived in the cold darkness for many weeks.
The power came on just before Thanksgiving but as November turns colder, they are still waiting for heat.
Her first floor was gutted. Walls damaged by the water were ripped out, opening one room into another. Her tile floors were torn up, her furniture tossed onto the street. Whatever she could salvage — or hopes to salvage — sits strewn in the remnants of her formal dining room and living room.
“Oh my God,” was Barbera’s simple but strong reaction to the storm surge as it started coming into her home during the hurricane.
The 57-year-old breast cancer survivor, who has also had a knee replacement, is no stranger to hurricane-induced flooding. Barbera’s home suffered minor damage from the storm surge duing Tropical Storm Irene last summer, which qualified her for $8,000 in aid from FEMA — which, in return, creates a major problem for her now. FEMA denied her money this time because she received some after Irene.
She did not have flood insurance because she couldn’t afford the extra cost.
“I do not have a penny to piss on,” Barbera said, noting that a representative from FEMA she met with was helpful and “took me in as a mom.”
But, Barbera said, the need right now is for money.
“In New York, people don’t want a hug, they want to be paid in dollars,” she said.
She needs cash to pay for her new boiler and furnace and to pay the bill to have her house cleaned. Volunteers from a Brooklyn church were working on her flood-damaged garage.
She applied for a loan but was stymied by the fact she lives off her Social Security.
Barbera said she sought help from the Red Cross and when she was offered food and blankets from a volunteer, she told the voluntter what she really needed was money.
“I thanked her for her volunteer work,” she said. “But I told her ‘we need cash.’”
Barbera said since the storm she has been looking out for her hard-hit neighbors.
She slammed the Red Cross on how it spends donations and said she wants to put together her own foundation to help raise money for her neighborhood and would talk to her accountant about it.
“If I do get money, I know how to take care of my people,” she said.
Barbera’s electrician, Ricky Corno, agreed. Corno, who has been working long days since the storm getting flood-damaged Howard Beach homes back up and running, said Barbera would send him to her neighbors’ homes to help them before her.
“That’s the kind of person she is,” Corno said. “Looking out for people.”
As for Barbera, she said she hopes to salvage some of her ornate furniture and promised she would rebuild and had no plans to leave her home.
“Where am I going to go?” she asked.
She would, however, look to get flood insurance.