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SIX MONTHS LATER: Families vow to resume their Broad Channel lives

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Christina Santucci

The storm changed everything.

Six months after Sandy, Mike Lobody Jr. still has no idea when he will return to his Broad Channel home.

Francis Seim, who lived three blocks away, is only moving back to the neighborhood because his family found a second-floor apartment to rent. The house where he and his family lived for 12 years remains uninhabitable.

All throughout the tight-knit island, which connects Howard Beach with the Rockaways, the superstorm’s wrath is still visible.

“A lot of people are not coming back,” Seim said.

Some businesses have reopened and homes have been rebuilt, but many others remain boarded up.

“It’s been tough. The storm totally changed everything. It totally changed my life,” Lobody said.

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Six months after surging water forced the Lobody family to take refuge in a crawl space above a bedroom, the interior of their house is still bare. The home’s studs are visible and blotches of mold dot the wood frame inside.

The front steps are gone, just as Halloween decorations that were hung before Sandy and survived the storm have been removed. Only a bicycle, a plastic play structure for the kids and barbecue are left of the family’s belongings in Broad Channel.

The family now rents a place in Glendale, close to the school where Lobody’s wife Alison works as a teacher and where his 4-year-old son Conor has begun attending kindergarten.

“I keep paying for a mortgage and an apartment. It gets expensive after a while,” he said of the payments: $1,200 per month in rent and under $2,000 for mortgage.

Mike Lobody said he received his first insurance check in early April.

“The bank was holding the money hostage,” he said. “They finally released some money and they still have the rest.”

The funds, he believes, will be enough to make necessary repairs to his house, but he envisions building the home taller than before in case another Sandy strikes.

“I want to put a second story on the house because I’m not going to stand in 5 feet of water again on a ladder and watch my kids be curled up in a loft. I want a second story so there is at least some place higher to go,” he said.

When floodwaters began rushing into the Lobody’s single-story home on Noel Road, Conor, Allison and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter Emma stayed safe in a crawl space — about 3 feet high and 6 feet long — in Conor’s room just below the ceiling. Mike Lobody stood on a 6-foot ladder holding onto them.

Although Emma is too young to remember the storm, Conor often brings up Sandy.

“The bad water came and took everything away,” Mike Lobody said his son frequently recalls.

“He talks about the house all the time,” Mike Lobody said. “He just keeps asking when is it going to be done? I don’t have an answer for him.”

In December, Mike Lobody projected his family would be back in their home of five years by June, but standing inside the gutted house last week, he said there was no way that was possible now.

In the past few months, Lobody said he has been able to pick up extra work as a plumber to help with the bills, but he called it a double-edged sword. Many of his customers are friends and neighbors, whose homes also bore the brunt of the storm. Some in the neighborhood fast tracked their repairs, while others have not been able to make as much progress.

“There are people like me that are nowhere yet. They haven’t moved forward. Six months later, it’s still a nightmare,” he said.

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Francis Seim and his family are headed back to the Channel but not to their home.

A week or two after the storm, the National Guard staff sergeant heard from his landlord that there were no plans to repair the house they had rented for 12 years on East 10th Road.

So the Seims began searching for another place to live in Broad Channel to be close to PS 47, where their 9-year-old son Frank attends school.

Since December, the family has rented an apartment on Beach 123rd Street in Belle Harbor. On Wednesday, they packed their belongings into a moving truck with help from Mormon volunteers en route to 18th Street and Channel Road.

“We’re still trying to pick up the pieces,” he said. “It’s happening, slowly but surely. Money is a factor.”

The Rockaway apartment, which they share with one of Frank’s two older sisters, had cost $1,500 a month, nearly double the amount they paid in Broad Channel. And to move back to Broad Channel will cost even more each month.

The Seims said they received some Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, which they used to replace their furniture, and praised volunteer groups like the Tzu Chi Foundation, which gave out $600 gift cards, as well as family, friends and co-workers, who provided food and supplies immediately after Sandy.

But the family remains in limbo.

“We still feel like we are looking for a home,” Seim’s wife Karen said. “Some people just don’t get how we six months later … we are still struggling.”

She hopes to get a part-time job after the family returned to Broad Channel to help with the credit cards and mounting bills.

Francis Seim, who was deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 773rd Transportation Co. based in Fort Totten, recently received word that the unit he is transferring to — the 465th Transportation Co. in Pennsylvania — is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in February. His wife worries for his safety after he spent his time in Iraq hauling fuel, cargo vehicles and ammunition and was not able to call home sometimes for days at a time.

“You name it, we hauled it,” he said.

Francis Seim said he drove 14,298 miles in total throughout the country.

Karen Seim hopes her husband will be barred from deploying because of post-traumatic stress disorder, but Francis Seim is looking at his service in a different light.

“I want to go because we need the money. The money that I’m going to make over there will hopefully pull us out of some of the debt,” he said.

Yet the Seims believe they are among the luckier families in Broad Channel.

On the morning of Oct. 29, 2012, Karen Seim and young Frank went to stay with her daughter in the Rockaways, while Francis Seim remained at home in Broad Channel. He woke up to water soaking the rug on the first floor of their home. He put on a bathing suit and flip-flops and waded to a neighbor’s house. From the water line he saw afterward, Francis estimated that more than 7 feet of water filled the house.

“If something like Sandy happens again, we are definitely getting out of New York,” he said.

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