NEW YORK—With electricity restored in Manhattan and transit service close to being fully restored, life is getting back to normal for many. But, not for those living along the southern coastal communities in Brooklyn.
“We are never going to be back to normal here. You have working people who lost everything they ever had,” said Helen Nier Russo from the streets of Sea Gate on Saturday.
Russo, a lifelong resident of the gated beachfront community just west of Coney Island, was one of the many in Sea Gate whose home was nearly destroyed when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the area.
Russo and her father, Jeff Nier rode out the storm in their homes on Beach 38th Street. “I thought we were going to die. There was water coming in everywhere,” Russo said.
Now that they have survived the storm, Russo, and residents all along the coastal communities of Sea Gate, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, and Manhattan Beach are worrying about basic necessities such as food, water, and a way to stay warm as winter begins to tighten its grip.
“What I would really like right now is electricity and gas so I can make the house warm,” said Russo’s father, Jeff Nier, a Sea Gate resident since 1970. “There is no gasoline to run the generators.” Nier said he urged Con Edison to turn on power to his side of the street, but was told nothing would be turned on until they could ensure safety.
Nier, who slept in the upstairs of his house because of heavy flooding, used a barbeque grill to warm up some water to use for cleaning up.
Down the beach in Sheepshead Bay, water from the surge of Hurricane Sandy breeched the cement walls of the bay, pouring onto Emmonds Avenue and into the businesses and homes in the area.
Residents have been without power since Monday, when floodwater reached the tops of cars and unlike those in Sea Gate, they have not seen as much of a response. “We feel like we are being ignored,” Charles Cognata said Saturday.
He went on a local television station to vent his frustration with the lack of response by Con Edison and on Sunday workers from the power company came out. “We are doing better,” Cognata said Sunday evening. “This morning at 5 a.m., Con Edison came. They have been working all day. They promised they were not going to leave until we have electricity.”
Bulldozers continued moving piles of rubble and sanitation trucks hauled away what were once beautiful beachfront houses in Sea Gate. But, despite the destruction, the sense of community was still strong.
Neighbors gathered in what was left of front yards Saturday, sitting in lawn chairs, exchanging stories and a few laughs while taking a break from the cleanup. When two women offered sandwiches one of the men joked, “I was hoping for lobster rolls.” It brought a roaring laugh from a group who had stuck around for the long hours and heavy lifting needed to help clean up their community.
Alberta Garofalo, came over from Staten Island to help her brother-in-law and former neighbors. Garofalo moved from a beachfront house three years ago. Last week, her former house was flattened by Superstorm Sandy. “I am blessed. [My brother-in-law] is blessed. We are alive,” Garofalo said.
“The better portion in people comes out when the chips are down—and the chips are down now,” said Jack Suben, a secretary on the Sea Gate Associate Board of Directors. “We all have to help each other.”
On the boardwalk of Coney Island, roughly 20 volunteers came out to help shovel the sand that now covers the famous walkway. “This is our community. It needs to be done,” one volunteer said.
In Sheepshead Bay, despite being upset about the lack of power, residents have banded together. Cognata takes turns with other residents to guard the building from looters. “We are trying to protect ourselves. The young people are helping out,” Congnata said.
Suben, an architect, plans to design and rebuild his house in Sea Gate, although he knows it may take a while. “I am going to have spend my money wisely to build something that is more resilient to future weather events, which are inevitable,” Suben said.
While Suben lost his home and nearly everything in his home, his wife and three children made it out safely. “What more can you ask for? The most valuable things in our lives, we still have,” Suben said. “I think that helps keep your spirits up, especially your sense of humor. Without that, you have nothing.”
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