By Alice Kenny
Thirty-foot-high waves crashed through Evelyn’s street “so high, so fast that if we’d stayed another minute we would have been trapped inside,” she said, still breathing fast four months later as she related the event.
Never had Evelyn imagined seeing the ocean out the windows of her Seavers Avenue home, she said. After all, the two-story semi attached brick and shingled house she shared with her sons, Christopher, 14, and Nicholas, 18, was surrounded by fellow semi-attached homes that stretched more than a mile to the nearest beach.
But on the evening of October 29, Hurricane Sandy whipped the mighty Atlantic as it commandeered Staten Island roads, washed away homes, trucks and businesses and destroyed nearly everything Evelyn and her family owned.
“People think it’s over,” she said, recalling that night and all the tough days that have come since then. “It’s nowhere near over.”
She, her sons, and their two dogs, Pluto and Poppy, fought their way through the waves. They dove into their 2000 Ford Explorer. And they escaped, literally, with nothing more than the clothes on their back. Salt water, dead fish and debris filled the basement and first floor of their former home.
If it were not for help from volunteers who drove nearly 1,000 miles from Tennessee to lend a hand coupled with donations from St. Margaret Mary Church and Catholic Charities, she could never have rebuilt her home, she said.
Fortunately, St. Margaret Mary Church in Staten Island gave her sheet rock, insulation, doors, compound, nails, and tape. They also gave her a $500 gift card to Home Depot from Catholic Charities.
“I now had everything needed to set me up,” she said.
But it was only a start.
This single mom had no money to pay for the rehab. When she returned to work a week after the storm, her employer, an insurance billing company, told her not to come back, she said. She could not qualify for unemployment benefits, she added, because the company denied firing her, telling the New York State Unemployment Office that they instead told her to “take all the time she needs to recover.” Meanwhile, her flood and homeowners insurance still have not processed her claims.
So, while she and her sons squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment paid for, temporarily, by FEMA, she went online seeking help. On a Facebook site set up for Sandy Survivors she came across five men from Tennessee. They were looking, they wrote, for a dry place to stay in Staten Island so they could volunteer their rehab skills. Although the basement and first floor of her Seavers Avenue home had been destroyed, the second floor was dry, she wrote back, and they were welcome to it.
When the Tennessee volunteers arrived – “three guys in their 40s and two guys old enough to be my father” – they discovered that she was one of the only neighbors to have the rehab materials they needed to get to work. So they chose her home.
For more than a week they worked 12-hour days, tearing out sodden insulation and sheet rock and mucking out flooring. Then they rebuilt the walls and floors using the brand new building supplies that St. Margaret Mary Church and Catholic Charities had given her.
Her story, however, is far from finished.
“People are scavenging for building materials, people who have it much worse than me,” she said. “It’s a community; it’s not just me.”
Would you like to help?
Text SANDY to 85944 to make a one-time $10 donation.