We have lived in a split ranch on the “new side” of Howard Beach since 1985. We lost one and a half floors of our home and a car to Sandy. Our daughter, DeAnna, son-in law, Mike and two of our fabulous granddaughters moved into their first home on the “old side” in May. They finished their basement six weeks ago. It is all gone. Neither of our homes is in Zone A.
Mike was standing at his basement door watching, as Sandy arrived. He suddenly saw a tremendous wave coming right at the door. The powerful wave hit the steel basement door with such a force that the door was blown off its hinges. Mike started to run, being chased by the door and the wave. The door clipped his body as he was chased through the basement and up the stairs.
The water rose fast and quickly filled their basement. Our granddaughters called us. They were screaming into the phone for Nana and Papa to save them. They were terrified by their parent’s fear, panic and tears. We will never forget their screams in our ears. For the first time in our lives, we were completely helpless because of the surge! We screamed back for them to call 911 to rescue them. Help never arrived.
Once the water receded, we found out our loved ones escaped to Aunt Rosalie’s and Uncle Dan’s house around the corner. They were safe. Everyone we love and know is safe! We all made it! We are extremely thankful and blessed!
Our 87-year-old mom, stricken with dementia, came to live with us in April. We set her up in what used to be our son Anthony’s basement bedroom. Our basement was professionally water-proofed in 1987 and finished in 1994. We recently installed dry wells and drains under the new cement in our yard. They were no match for Sandy’s fury.
I have been a science teacher for most of my very long teaching career. Our son-in-law, Mike, is a high school earth science teacher. We understand all of the terms used during the forecasts for Sandy. I was raised in Ozone Park, so I insisted that we prepare the house for the surge. We lifted everything up from the floor throughout the house; much to my husband’s amusement: “We live 13 blocks from Cross Bay Boulevard. Do you think all of this is really necessary?”
Our preparations did not account for the final height of the flooding or force of the surge that set massive items floating around, crashing into and collapsing shelves and everything I lifted up onto them.
Life has taught my husband, Tony, and me over 36 years of marriage, that anything you can fix with money is doable. Difficult? Yes; Exhausting? Yes? Frustrating? Yes, but do-able. We will be worried, angry and resentful over what we thought we were insured for in our “deluxe policies,” but we will move forward and rebuild.
Howard Beach had to rely on itself that fateful night and for the days that followed the Superstorm. So many people stepped up and paid it forward to the challenges Sandy left behind.
Next week is Thanksgiving. Sandy brought out the best and worst in human nature. We will celebrate the best of human nature at our Thanksgiving table. Whatever that table will look like this year.
We begin by being thankful for John and Daniella Melisi, the entire Melisi family and MECC Contracting Company. This young couple helped us and our neighbors tremendously. John brought in a generator for us to pump the water out of our homes, charged our cell phones and brought dry wood for us to burn in our fireplace. John even connected construction floodlights to his generator every night to light the block so we would all feel safe. Words cannot express how grateful we are for their countless kindnesses. I truly believe that John, Daniella and Baby Giovanni will receive many future blessings. They are earth angels! Thank you, Melisi family.
We are thankful to Vincent Lopilato and his family from Glendale. Vinny has been dating our youngest daughter, Margaret, for over a year. He has become a regular customer at his local Glendale stores on our behalf. He patiently drove to and from them, shopped for endless lists of supplies that we needed for demolition, clean up, safety and comfort. He helped us with all of those tasks. We had not had the pleasure of meeting Vinny’s parents, Maria and Vincent, before Sandy. Margaret has been taking our laundry to Maria. The Lopilatos welcomed us into their home for a delicious hot meal and the hottest shower we have ever enjoyed.
We are thankful to St. Helen’s Relief Center set up in Fr. Dooley Hall. We enjoyed many hot cups of coffee, hot pasta and water when we needed those things. It was therapeutic just to take a break from cleaning up and talk to other Sandy victims seated at the tables. So many community residents and volunteers generously continue to give their time, resources and talents to anyone who comes in need. Sandy took a great deal from us, but I believe Sandy also took the perception that has negatively labeled Howard Beach residents for many years. We are extremely thankful for that.
We are thankful to our cousins, Michael and Lorraine Viviano who took our Mom into their home in Mount Sinai on Long Island without question. We are so grateful for their generosity and commitment to family. Our Mom is warm and having a wonderful time there. She thinks she is on vacation.
We are thankful to those who called us and offered to help in any way they could, especially my Friday friends. You know who you are! To Lois Fisher and her family, for all of the hot showers, meals, coffee, laundry, cell phone charging, Internet use and TV breaks. Thank you for being so available to all of us at this very difficult time. We love you!
We are thankful to the New York City Department of Sanitation workers who came consistently and tried to be supportive and sensitive as they carted away our lives.
Finally, for those of you who could not find it in your heart to answer the door or any call for help that fateful night; for those of you who used Sandy for excessive personal gain or profit; for those of you who looked the other way; for local businesses who did not give back to the community but could have; for those of you who were afraid that a family member or friend would ask for something; for those of you who cannot share with anyone; for those of you that had no problem saying “No”; for those who took advantage of an affected colleague(s) at work … I feel sorry for you! You lost something greater and more precious than any possession placed on the voluminous street piles. I hope you will take time at your Thanksgiving table to examine your lives. We will pray for you.
We are thankful and eternally grateful to all the earth angels who gave of themselves so freely. A Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!
Rita Fico is a science teacher and has been a Howard Beach resident since 1981.