‘It’s been hell’

In Five Towns, recovery from Sandy drags on into ninth month


The day after Hurricane Sandy struck the Five Towns, Cedarhurst resident Gail Siciliano began rebuilding her Westminster Road home. Nearly nine months later, she and other Five Towns residents are still picking up the pieces.

As Siciliano sat at her kitchen table on July 5, with the air conditioner blasting, keeping the humidity outside at bay, her frustration at being unable to return to her normal life was apparent. “We’ve lived here almost 30 years and we’ve never, ever experienced anything like that,” she said of the storm. “Things can be replaced, but memories can’t.”

The entire first floor of her home remains barren, with plywood covering the foundation as Siciliano, her husband and two children finalize flooring plans. “The tile in the kitchen has to be regrouted, hopefully not replaced, and the bathroom we’re waiting on because we need it,” she said. “We’re doing one room at a time.”

The most vexing problems have been with her home insurance. “The whole process left us so angry, so we stopped pursuing money,” she said. “We had flood insurance for our structure but not for our contents. We’re required by law to have flood insurance, and because we did what we were lawfully supposed to do, we didn’t receive help from [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] or any other agencies. We’re very frustrated.”

Sheldon Smith, of FEMA’s External Affairs Office, said that once a homeowner completes an application for assistance, the damaged property is inspected to verify the loss, and the approval can take several weeks to be processed. “Audits are done later to ensure that aid went only to those who were eligible, and that disaster aid funds were used only for their intended purposes,” Smith said. “These federal program funds cannot duplicate assistance provided by other sources such as insurance.”

Sandy also destroyed the home Inwood resident Eleanor Grimando grew up in on Bayswater Boulevard, and it had to be demolished. “It’s been hell; there’s no other way to say it,” Grimando said. “It’s played on every emotion: anger, loss, frustration, everything you could possibly imagine.”

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