For many in Queens, the worst is not over.
Hurricane Irene has come and gone — but her memory lingers on in the form of cracked walls in basements destroyed by flooding, wrecked childhood photos and continued power outages for thousands of residents.
Residents who hurried from homes after Mayor Bloomberg ordered the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation for the Rockaways and other low-lying neighborhoods returned to their houses this week, finding their streets and basements submerged in knee-deep water. As of press time, thousands remained without power, according to Con Edison.
“I cried for about two hours yesterday after we came home,” said Christine Esposito, who lives with her husband, Joseph, and 11-year-old son in Hamilton Beach. “You work so hard to buy a home, and then it’s thrown away in 12 hours. It’s devastating.”
Four to five feet of water poured into Esposito’s recently renovated basement — as well as into nearly every home on First Street in Hamilton Beach —and she said they lost everything there, including a stove, a computer, her son’s baby photos, and a washer and dryer.
Esposito’s story is a familiar one after Hurricane Irene, which essentially shut down the city late on Saturday and all day Sunday and forced the evacuation of thousands of people, about 550 of whom crowded into the shelter city officials set up at John Adams High School in Ozone Park.
The storm hit Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel, Rockaway, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park particularly hard, uprooting trees, tearing down power lines and even reducing two Broad Channel homes to heaps of wood beams and bits of glass.
Countless numbers of people in Queens were impacted —everyone from Republican congressional candidate Bob Turner, who evacuated his Rockaway home, to Community Board 10 President Betty Braton, whose basement partially flooded.
The hurricane killed at least 42 people, including an elderly Brooklyn woman, as it swept the eastern seaboard last week, according to the Associated Press. No deaths in Queens have been reported.
Borough President Helen Marshall’s office said the only storm-related injury it was aware of was suffered by a Broad Channel resident who received a gash after his window blew out early Sunday morning.
At the peak of the storm, Con Edison reported 120,000 homes in the outer boroughs and Westchester were without power.
As of Tuesday evening, there were a little more than 4,000 customers in Queens without power, including some in Broad Channel, Howard Beach and Ozone Park, according to Con Edison.
Mayor Bloomberg reported about 2,000 trees were downed, split, or uprooted in the city, with about half of those being in Queens.
Dan Pearce, who lives on Crossbay Boulevard in Broad Channel, said he was horrified to see his massive 25-year-old tree uprooted, crushing a shed filled with the Christmas decorations his wife had collected for decades and falling onto his neighbor’s roof. The roof did not appear to have sustained any damage.
“The tree started to lean around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning and went down around 6 a.m., taking down the power lines with it,” Pearce said. “The crazy thing is, we had planned to cut the tree down the day after Labor Day. We had made an appointment and everything.”
Area officials, and numerous civic activists, worked to help people evacuate from their homes, as well as deal with the hurricane’s aftermath.
“Even though many people underestimated the severity of the storm, the city was well prepared and did an extraordinary job preventing loss of life and minimizing property damage,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said. “My office is still handling many issues related to the storm and will continue to do so until life gets back to normal.”
Ulrich, state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) spent their weekend monitoring the situation and coming to the aid of constituents. Ulrich handed out dry ice to residents who remained without power on Monday.
“Now the work begins,” Addabbo said. “My staff and I will assist constituents as they recover from the storm. Many of my residents are still without electrical power and utility services. Efforts must be made to ensure that FEMA rightfully compensates residents for the damage done to their property.”
Ulrich’s office also stressed that residents should report damage to 311, which helps the city be able to qualify for disaster relief.
As the cleanup continues, residents said while the damage can be bad, they have to remember one thing.
“No one died,” Esposito said. “That’s the important thing. That can be easy to forget.”
And for those who had to leave their homes and ride out the storm on cots in John Adams High School — they said they will be all right, as long as they have somewhere to return to. Eventually, they said, a storm must end.
“All you can do is pray,” said Lorena Garcia, a Far Rockaway resident who evacuated to the John Adams shelter with her family. “We know our kids are safe, and that’s what matters.”