February 2013 Issue
January 31, 2013

Members struggle to recover post-Sandy

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Carol Van Schaick, a West Islip TA retiree, indicates the height of the water when it flooded the first floor of her home during Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Miller Photography.

Fiorella Raimondi never thought she would still be displaced. And she never thought it would take her 21/2 months to receive a check for repairs from her insurance company. Yet, three months after Superstorm Sandy ravaged parts of Long Island, New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut, Raimondi is still living in a rental and her home is far from restored.

She is one of thousands of NYSUT members struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy. NYSUT so far has received more than 2,000 requests for assistance, and more requests come in daily.

Raimondi, a United Federation of Teachers member and computer teacher at PS 20 in Staten Island, has made hundreds of phone calls to contractors and insurance agents.

It's been very, very slow. Unless you have the money upfront for repairs, it takes a long time to get back to normal," she said.

Raimondi's ranch home, located just a block away from Staten Island's Midland Beach, was virtually destroyed. "The foundation is OK, but everything inside, and the outside siding, has to be replaced — electrical, heating, walls, floors, furniture, appliances, everything."

Although every home in her neighborhood suffered damage, hers was among the hardest hit. "Some people had two-floor homes," she said. Although thankful for the help she's received since the storm, Raimondi looks forward to a return to normalcy in her community. "People who don't live here have moved on. But we're in the middle of it for at least another six months. Please don't forget about us."

Carol Van Schaick, a West Islip Teachers Association retiree, considers herself lucky. "We have a Cape Cod style house so we've been living in the two small rooms upstairs since the storm," she said of the Babylon, Long Island, home she shares with her husband.

Cooking is done on a small propane stove; a dorm-sized refrigerator keeps food cold; and the couple sleep on a futon. "Luckily, we have a bathroom upstairs," she said.

Two-and-a-half feet of water flooded the first floor and everything must be ripped out and replaced. Particularly painful — after 40 years of waiting — is the new kitchen, complete with new cabinets and appliances, the Van Schaicks installed just months before the storm. They are frustrated by questions over how many repairs their insurance policy will cover, and when.

"We got a repair estimate from our contractor for $105,000, but we don't know if insurance will cover the full amount," said Van Schaick. "I'm fortunate that I have a pension and Social Security, but we're not rich people."

The hardest part is losing family mementos. "I had all my parents' pictures, report cards, pictures of ancestors from both sides — all gone. They can't be replaced."

Joanne Pumo still feels shaken when recalling her experiences during Superstorm Sandy. "The water was so high it felt like we were isolated on an island," she said.

Electrical transformers were going off and lighting up the sky with sparks, and we worried a fire was going to break out. All I could think about were the Katrina survivors waiting on their roofs. It was horrifying."

The family was without power, heat and electricity for 18 days. The home's heat, electrical wiring and first floor living space were damaged. Pumo, a member of the Freeport Teacher Aides and Assistants Association, gauges her recovery at 75 percent.

We still need to replace walls and furniture, but we're able to live on the first floor," she said of her Oceanside, Long Island, home.

Since the family's insurance policy doesn't cover the home's contents — things like doors, wiring and some parts of the electrical system — a full recovery will be slow.

I'm feeling like this is just hitting me now," she said. "My daughter came home from college and joked that Sandy had taken over my brain."

A recent power loss caused storm memories to flood back. "I totally overreacted — all I could think about was feeling so isolated, cold and frightened," she said. "I have a newfound compassion for people who experience disaster. Until it touches your life, you don't really understand."