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Sea Gate Recovers Lost Family Photographs After Hurricane Sandy

By Janet Upadhye | November 8, 2012 3:27pm

SEA GATE — A wedding photo of a smiling bride and her husband captures them looking down at their clasped hands, intertwined in a bouquet of flowers. But her long veil is spattered with mud from Hurricane Sandy and her husband's face is marred by dried debris, in one of many examples of the memorabilia left in tatters by Sandy's wrath.

The picture sits in one of two cardboard boxes at the entrance to the Sea Gate Chapel, a centerpiece of the recovery effort for this waterfront Coney Island community where all 850 homes suffered some sort of damage in the storm.

"Please bring any photographs found in the debris of Hurricane Sandy to the Sea Gate Association or drop them in the bin," reads a sign posted outside the chapel entrance.

The effort to snatch back their memories from Sandy has led to a growing number of boxes filled with muddy, tarnished photographs.

Whole photos albums — black and white photographs with handwritten notes and dates on the back — and framed pictures that look as though they once sat on a mantle now make up a muddy pile outside the neighborhood chapel.

“So many beautiful family memories were swept away by the storm,” said resident Mary Star. “We are finding the ones that survived.”

Almost every house in the waterfront community was damaged in the storm. Some homes were completely gutted when 10-foot waves knocked down walls, scattering personal belongings all over the sandy streets. Neighbors have found toys, kitchen appliances and clothing blocks away from their homes of origin.

But more tragic and valuable to residents are the photographs buried in the mud and sand. And while the Sea Gate Association is making a concentrated effort to offer residents hot food, coffee and coats, they also understand the value of recovering photographs.

A few days after the storm, they began a photograph collection drive in an attempt to recover what they can of the buried memories.

“At least fifty people have dropped photos into the boxes,” said community organizer Tammy Maldonado. “They have found other family’s photos on the beach and in their basements and backyards.”

The association plans to display the photographs in the chapel once electricity and heat has been restored. Neighbors can then come and find what they have lost.

“Even though the most important memories are burnt in your mind, the piece of paper to hold in your hand is still important,” said Star. “To find a picture that you thought was lost is almost a reminder of what people still have after the storm.”