They didn’t think it would be this bad.
When Hurricane Irene hit New York last August as a tropical storm, the worst Howard Beach had to deal with was some minor basement flooding and trees knocked down.
But Irene was just a blip on the radar compared to what Hurricane Sandy had in store for the bayfront community.
“I’d take one Irene every year for the next 10 years before I’d ever go through Sandy again,” said Diane Caruso, who walked out of her flooded home on 99th Street to find her boat lying across the road on her neighbor’s lawn. She recalled watching the boat float away from her driveway the night before.
When Sandy made landfall at dusk Monday night, more than 100 miles south of Queens near Atlantic City, the storm pushed an incredible amount of water into New York Harbor and Jamaica Bay. That water rose — and rose — and rose — coming over the banks of Shellbank and Hawtree basins, into the streets and driveways, basements and especially close to Charles Park, living rooms, kitchens and dining rooms of residents.
Less than 24 hours after the water rushed in, the sound of generators and emergency sirens echoed through the streets of Howard Beach. Even with electricity cut, some homes hit hard by the storm surge, that reached more than 10 feet in some spots, struggled to dry out.
Mike and Kathy Figliola had just renovated their home on 102nd Street near Coleman Square. Their first floor sits about four feet off the ground. Unfortunately, that was not enough.
The water reached higher than seven feet outside their home, flooding their basement completely and ruining their new wood floor and living room set. On Tuesday, the Figliolas began moving their furniture and rugs out onto the street.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do now,” Kathy Figliola said. “Where do you start?”
In Coleman Square, the flood waters were as high as 10 feet at one point, tossing garbage Dumpsters around like driftwood near the subway station. The surge destroyed storefronts including the office of state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). Among the items ruined in his office was a desk used by his father when he was a congressman from the area from the 1960s until 1986.
Garbage pails, coolers, pillows and even a pool ladder were among the items strewn about on 102nd Street leading into Hamilton Beach, left behind by the surge as it retreated back toward Jamaica Bay. As late as Tuesday evening, First Street in Hamilton Beach remained underwater.
Back on 99th Street, George and Robin Molnar lost a boat in the storm. Their house facing Hawtree Creek was inundated by over six feet of water. Behind their house, their dock was lifted up and thrown into a neighbor’s yard. One of their two boats did not survive the storm. George Molnar said he came out in the height of the storm to attempt to save it but couldn’t, and it capsized.
The couple said the storm surge came into the neighborhood as early as 5 p.m. on Monday, peaking at around 9 p.m. and not receding until almost dawn on Tuesday.
“This is like Katrina,” Robin Molnar said.
Closer to Charles Park, the damage got progressively worse. The surge seemed to have torn the guts out of homes. Furniture, assorted pieces of wood, concrete and Sheetrock all sat in the streets and on the sidewalk. Cars tossed about ended up on the paths in Charles Park. The surge was high enough to move vehicles as far north as 158th Avenue.
The area west of Cross Bay Boulevard did not fare much better. The storm surge flooded out a number of businesses on Cross Bay and rushed into the street almost as far north as the Belt Parkway. In Shellbank Basin, docks stood straight up in the air or were shattered.
Andrew Falzon said he saw the storm surge come down his block on 82nd Street near St. Helen Church in both directions, rising to over a foot in height.
“It was terrifying,” he said.
A few blocks away on 87th Street, the water rose to the first floors of homes despite its being nearly a quarter mile away from any body of water, flooding not only basements, but also some first floors.
In Lindenwood, garages and basements suffered flooding closer to the Brooklyn border, where Spring Creek rose into the streets, but the lights were on in some of the stores in the neighborhood’s shopping center and in its high-rise condos.
Lindenwood did suffer bad tree damage. A large tree leaned against the first four floors of one of the buildings on 151st Avenue and a number of others blocked streets closer to the Brooklyn border.