Hurricane Sandy Damages Five Homes in One Family

By James Fanelli on November 8, 2012 7:20am 

GERRITSEN BEACH — Diane Sullivan spent the eighth day after Hurricane Sandy dragging debris and digging up sand outside her clapboard home.

The married mother looked haggard from a week of no power and heat, but she continued toiling, except to greet and kiss her neighbors who wandered by as they sorted through their own ravaged homes. The brief catch-ups invariably included a question about how a mother or a brother or some relative was recovering.

“Down here, you will find everybody is related to everybody,” Sullivan, 36, said on Tuesday. “It’s just like the Rockaways.”

In this tight-knit waterfront community, generations of families live side by side, and residents not only know their neighbor’s name — or nickname — but who their cousins are. The close ties have been a salve in the storm’s wake, as neighbors share power generators, laughs and clothes.

It’s also meant Sandy’s fury has affected entire clans. And Sullivan’s family tree is one map to that devastation.

When the water surged the night of Oct. 29, it barreled down blocks. Sullivan’s home on Seba Avenue filled with 7 feet of water. The basement in her mother’s house next door was ruined.

The rushing water also wrecked the homes of Sullivan’s two sisters, who live just a few blocks away. Sandy even flooded Sullivan’s brother’s place in Toms River, N.J.

In all, the storm damaged five of the family’s houses and three of their cars, including Sullivan’s Mustang GT.

The city places Gerritsen Beach in Zone B in its hurricane evacuation map, meaning the neighborhood is subject to potential flooding if a Category 2 hurricane hits. But Gerritsen Beach was not part of the  mandatory evacuation Mayor Bloomberg announced before the storm.

The Zone B classification was the reason why Sullivan, like many residents, didn’t have federal flood insurance. It’s also why she didn’t take more precautions before Sandy hit. She said officials didn’t tell them to evacuate.

“We kept asking. They said, ‘No, you’re Zone B. You don’t have to leave,’” Sullivan said. “If we were told to leave, people would have pulled out [belongings] from their basements.”

During the storm, as the water level rose, Sullivan said her family “kept going up higher in her home.” Neighbors who tried to flee in a car had to swim back and take refuge in her home, she said.

Another neighbor, who lived only a few homes away and was known in the community as Bumps, drowned in his basement.

By the time the water receded, Sullivan had lost two refrigerators, a washer and dryer, couches and her son’s motorcycle. Her cousin, who lived in her basement, had to throw out cherished pictures and their grandmother’s prized sewing machine.

Sullivan’s homeowners insurance doesn’t cover the damage to her basement. She has applied for federal assistance, but so far hasn’t gotten a response.

“I made the claim a day after [the storm]. FEMA hasn’t come,” she said. “It’s been a long wait.”

As Sullivan sorted through debris Tuesday, George Broadhead, the president of the Gerritsen Beach Property Owners Association, stopped by to say hello.

The 80-year-old had dated Sullivan’s aunt when he was a teenager. He pointed to a church a block away, where residents could pick through piles of donated clothing, and volunteer cooks flipped free burgers and hotdogs.

“Everybody down here is going to survive,” he said. “The beach has shown its resilience.”

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