By Debbie Cohen
Broad Channel was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy two years ago with six-foot water surges and torrential wind and rain. Many homes and businesses were badly damaged, and some small bungalows were demolished in this coastal area.
But over the past year, most of the businesses and some homes have bounced back, along with houses that are still being rebuilt, many on stilts as a preventive measure against future storms.
Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference in Broad Channel last week, saying significant progress has been made on the city’s Hurricane Sandy recovery effort. He pointed out there has been new Build It Back goals put in place now that Amy Peterson, director of the Mayor’s office of Housing Recovery, has been in charge.
“What has made Build It Back work since the mayor’s overhaul is increased flexibility for homeowners and an increased presence by our staff in Sandy-impacted communities,” Peterson said. “We have made over 2,800 offers to Queens residents and we are committed to streamline the pre-construction process and target those applicants who require counseling.”
According to Samuel Breidbart, a spokesman for the NYC Housing Recovery Office, Build It Back was in Broad Channel Oct. 21 to assist a community cleanup of storm debris in Jamaica Bay.
“The point of access to the bay was behind a Build It Back home to be rebuilt at 10-24 Cross Bay Blvd., only now accessible because the damaged home was recently demolished to make way for reconstruction,” he said. “The Broad Channel Civic Association and Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers were on hand with volunteers from the Parks Department and Build It Back.”
During the news conference, the mayor committed to 1,000 construction starts and 1,500 reimbursement checks by Dec. 31. He also announced a new procurement that will dramatically expand design and construction capacity to further expedite the pace of recovery.
Jayme and John Galimi, Cross Bay Boulevard residents in Broad Channel whose house was demolished by Hurricane Sandy, said they finally got the help they needed when they got in touch with Peterson. Before that the wheels were moving very slowly — too much red tape, along with lost paperwork.
“Now Build It Back is rebuilding our family’s house and it will be ready by this Christmas and my husband and our five children are overjoyed,” said Jayme Galimi. “My new house will now be storm-proofed and it will be raised 12 feet above ground. The construction work started in August 2014 and we will be back there before we know it.”
Jayme Galimi said that it would have cost her and her husband about $400,000 to rebuild and FEMA only helped with some rental assistance. She said when Sandy struck, the family ran upstairs as 5 feet of water came gushing in on the first floor, but then the upstairs started shaking and the side of the house came off and they knew they had to leave.
“This is a tight-knit community and everyone helped out,” she said. “When Sandy first hit, we really didn’t think it would be that bad, but we learned from it.”
The Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department on Noel Road had severe damage from 7 feet of water from Sandy. Ed Wilmarth, chief of the department, remembers that night when he helped to rescue residents and all the fire trucks sustained water damage.
“I remember driving up in water that was up to the fire truck’s windshield and one of our fire trucks burned up because of an electrical short,” Wilmarth said. “All of our vehicles that we have now were donated to us, but we are still waiting for FEMA monies for two years.”
He said that the department is now carrying 35-foot extension ladders, instead of the previous standard 24-foot models, and they are now better prepared in the event of another storm.
State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D- Ozone Park) said that originally Build It Back was riddled with problems from lost paperwork to long delays and people were dropping out and giving up.
“Now since the mayor’s overhaul, they are finally taking steps in the right direction,” he said. “It has really been moving within the last four months, and we have over 7,500 build back cases in my office. Build It Back is in my office every Thursday and I want to see every family back in their own home as soon as possible”
The Galimis are glad they never gave up on the process.
“My husband wanted to give up and I said no, what have we got to lose?” she said. “It paid off. We waited two years and now it’s all worth it.”