“Are you from FEMA?” Terry Fogarty asked a visitor with a tinge of hope in her voice, which soon turned to disappointment when she realized federal help had not arrived.
On Friday afternoon, the Howard Beach resident had been waiting for over a week to get some kind of assistance after Hurricane Sandy damaged her home. It left her and her husband, two children and elderly mother without heat or electricity and a water-logged basement.
“On Election Day, so many people were giving things away — the Red Cross and everyone else,” Fogarty said. “And after Election Day, it was over. You didn’t see anybody.”
Fogarty said she had an appointment to see a FEMA representative on Nov. 6, but the person canceled due to a death in the family. She was never given a new appointment and hasn’t heard anything from the agency since.
“I called FEMA. I can’t get through anymore. My phone just dies,” Fogarty said teary-eyed. “I have no electric. I have no heat. I have nothing. There was 10 feet of water in the basement that encroached on the first level. We filled out the application right away, and we’re still waiting for FEMA.”
Fogarty wasn’t the only one feeling angry, frustrated and depressed. On many streets in Howard Beach one could see the water-damaged debris that had been cleared from homes lying on the sidewalk or filling Dumpsters.
“I would like to know why the people of Howard Beach weren’t evacuated,” said Lucy Fileccia, 80, of 96th Street.
She has lived in Howard Beach for 31 years with her daughter Anna Maria and her sister, Theresa Palazzo, 86. She sustained damage to her boiler, basement, and insulation. As of Friday, she had not had electricity for 12 days.
“My car was totaled,” Anna Maria Fileccia said. “My car was completely saturated. It was submerged in water for eight hours. It was a terrifying night. The water was getting higher and higher.”
Cars throughout the neighborhood sat at awkward angles, having been pushed by the rising water, and many had broken or missing windows. It was clear that Howard Beach had been beaten and battered by Sandy, a superstorm the likes of which residents had never seen.
“The water was unbelievable and it filled up the whole apartment downstairs,” George Buonocore of 96th Street said. “We had like 8 feet of water. The water was so powerful that it broke the side window and the foundation and it actually took the dryer and ripped it from the pipe, and we were loaded with gas.”
Buonocore and his family had to be evacuated from their home by the National Guard due to the gas leak.
“They said if we would have put a candle on, this neighborhood would have been gone,” Buonocore recalled. “They turned off the gas and the water and we had to find somewhere else to sleep.”
Although the problem was corrected, he still hasn’t moved back in. He is waiting for the heat, electricity and gas to be restored, and in the meantime is staying with a friend in Ozone Park. Although he has lived in Howard Beach for 31 years, Buonocore said after Sandy he is considering moving.
“I think Mayor Bloomberg should have done a better job, and I think the people who work with him should know that Jamaica Bay and this whole area should have been flood Zone A, not B,” Buonocore said. “When you’re Zone B, you think it won’t be as bad. Nobody knew.”
Robert Fanizza of 96th Street also expressed anger and disappointment with elected officials. He braved the storm with his wife, Herlinde Martinez-Fanizza, and their dog, Moka.
“There was very poor communication from the police, from the Red Cross, from everybody,” Fanizza said. “They come by once in a while with a megaphone and you can’t even understand what they’re saying. They dropped some supplies in Charles Park, but that didn’t come till Saturday. So what were we supposed to do for five days? We have no heat, no hot water, no electricity, no nothing.”
The Fanizzas lost two cars, much of their clothing, the entire contents of their garage and first floor, a washing machine and dryer, patio furniture, a tool shed in the backyard and their son’s baseball equipment. The family photos and keepsakes that they managed to save were spread out on a coffee table waiting to dry.
“We’re throwing our whole lives out in the street — piece by piece, everybody’s life in the streets of Howard Beach – and nobody cares,” Fanizza said.
On Friday afternoon, Gina McCoy was getting ready to do her 10th load of laundry that day, lifting the heavy sack of clothes and tossing it into the trunk of a rental car.
Her own vehicle was destroyed by the storm, as was the first floor of her house, her garage and all her clothes. She evacuated to her sister’s house in Ozone Park with her daughter, but her husband and mother-in-law stayed. They watched the water rise to over 6 feet and took cover on an upper floor, wondering if they would make it out alive. They did. But Sandy still left her mark.
“I’m devastated,” McCoy said. “I’m tired of this. Every time I go in the house, I cry because I see things that I lost and there is so much I have to do to try and save things. I can’t do this anymore. The house is destroyed. Everything is destroyed.”