NEW DORP BEACH — A woman who had her Staten Island home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy begged the city to build a seawall along the beachfront to protect from devastating floodwaters prior to the deadly storm.
Sheila Traina, 64, warned a failure to act could cost lives.
Traina, who has lived in New Dorp Beach for almost 45 years, led a community effort for the last five years to have a seawall built for protection in the event of a major storm.
But she said all of her efforts were met with silence — and now Traina has a pile of rubble where her house once stood and two of her neighbors are dead.
“If we had had a 20-foot seawall, maybe we would have had a shot,” said the resident of Cedar Grove Avenue, the street closest to the beach in her neighborhood. “It’s frustrating that nobody listened.”
Traina started a petition in 2010 asking the city's Parks Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate New Dorp's beachfront area and come up with a plan to safeguard it in case a massive storm struck.
“What can you do to protect our homes, our lives?" Traina wrote. "We need your help before another disaster occurs — time is of the essence.
“If a storm were to hit suddenly in the night, there will be loss of life.”
More than 250 New Dorp residents signed the petition.
One of the signers was Joyce Carvalho, who also lives on Cedar Grove Avenue in New Dorp Beach. Her house was leveled by a 13-foot surge during the storm two weeks ago.
“One of my first thoughts after the storm was that we asked for protection,” she said. “I was very angry, but what’s done is done.”
Neighbors said the Parks Department did build a 3-foot sand wall along the waterfront in the last two years to help protect the neighborhood, but they said it was woefully inadequate to deal with Sandy's surge.
“There was no way that wall was offering us any protection,” Carvalho said.
Traina also asked her local elected officials for help, enlisting City Councilman James Oddo to support the community’s efforts to prevent a disaster.
In a 2010 letter addressed to Staten Island Parks Commissioner Thomas Paulo and Col. John R. Boule II, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Oddo called for an investigation into shoreline erosion in New Dorp Beach.
"I kindly ask that you... investigate the Shore Line Erosion at this location and apprise me of your findings," he wrote in the Aug. 23, 2010 letter. "As you will note, my constituent believes this problem is creating a dangerous situation."
There was a flood-prevention plan for the area created in 1976, but nothing came of it and was finally defunded in 1986, after a powerful nor'easter swamped the neighborhood, according to a Staten Island Advance article from Dec. 12, 1992.
"I understand that residents are frustrated and upset," Parks Department spokeswoman Tara Kiernan told DNAinfo.com New York. "Our hearts go out to them, but I don’t think there was anything we could have done to stop those homes from flooding.”
She added that Parks Department employees have been working around the clock since the hurricane and have gone above and beyond to rebuild after the storm.