One year after Sandy, Breezy Point continues to rebuild
by Andrew Pavia
Oct 23, 2013 | 1948 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
(Photo: Michael O'Kane)
Almost a year after Hurricane Sandy damaged nearly all of the 2,837 homes in the Breezy Point Cooperative by both flooding and fire, the Rockaway community continues the rebuilding process.

Arthur Lighthall, general manger of the cooperative, said that 350 homes were destroyed by fire or storm damage on the night of October 29, 2012, and another 2,000 were clearly damaged and in need of desperate repairs.

“Everyone’s home took some nature of water damage,” said Lighthall, who explained that three to five feet of water covered the entire cooperative. “When you’re flooded out, you can’t use the home.”

In response to the storm, volunteers became critical to members of the community.

“I don’t know if Breezy would’ve come back as quickly as we did without those efforts,” Lighthall said.

The lack of utilities was also an issue for Breezy Point residents, who went without electricity until the middle of November when just a few streetlights went on.

The natural gas didn’t come back in certain areas for months because National Grid elected to replace all of the gas lines, which was further complicated because of houses that were collapsed on top of many of the lines.

“Gas really, in full, didn’t come back until the summer,” said Lighthall.

Cell phone service was restored in the spring, and landline phone service became a large issue for Breezy Point residents.

“Verizon made an elective decision that they would not install copper wires for your phones,” he said. “Everything had to be FiOS.”

Residents have leaned on each other in the year following the devastating storm.

“A person who got their house together and moved back, helped to get their neighbors back,” said Denise Neibel, assistant general manager of the Breezy Point Cooperative. “You saw an awful lot of neighbors helping neighbors.”

For example, Neibel said that many residents were cooking for each other because some didn’t have a working stove.

“There’s a ton of stories like that out there,” she said.

While many New Yorkers in other areas affected by the storm decided to move rather than rebuild, Neibel said that was rarely considered an option in Breezy Point.

“There might be some elderly families for whom the thought of starting over is a daunting situation,” she said. “But what I’m seeing is that another member of the family is coming in to take over that house. What I haven’t really seen yet is people just walking out and leaving.”

In the fire-affected area, some homes are being built from the ground up, while others continue to wait on money from the federal government. While individual homeowners are eligible to collect money from FEMA, the cooperative as an entity is not.

So the cooperative was forced to foot the bill to repair things like roads, sidewalks and streetlights after the storm, money that came from the maintenance fees paid by residents.

Lighthall pointed out that the cooperative also spent time advocating for the homeowners and bringing the community back together.

“Clearly the homeowners who reside in this community had the distinct advantage of the management team helping and guiding them,” he said. “A lot different than the guy who has a house in Broad Channel who has really nobody to turn to.”

While on vacation in Hawaii, William Bayer, a seven-year permanent resident of Breezy Point, learned that his home was destroyed by fire.

“From the airport in New York we took a taxi to house,” he said. “There was nothing there.”

Bayer and his wife moved in with family members in Elmhurst following the storm, and said that he was lucky he had somewhere to go because many rental properties were snatched up.

Currently, they are living in an apartment they are renting in Belle Harbor using money provided by their insurance company. However, the money dries up on May 1 and Bayer has yet to begin rebuilding his home.

He is waiting to receive money from FEMA and other organizations before he begins building, but is hoping that a contractor will be able to finish the job by May. Bayer said he didn't wait to see if his home would be in the new flood zones proposed by FEMA to take precautions.

“I think my home will be six feet off the ground,” he said. “Whether they would’ve put it in or not, I would’ve done it anyway.”

Bayer also noticed that few people are leaving the community and more residents are rushing to get back in their homes in Breezy Point.

“There are developers all over the place,” he said.

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