Despite more than a week of cleaning, Emmons Avenue’s eastern end, a strip of waterfront condos, bungalows and boating clubs, remains in shambles.
We visited Emmons Avenue’s two waterfront bungalow colonies earlier this week, and, though Hurricane Sandy destroyed several homes and left families for the streets, there had been no visits from FEMA, Red Cross or any examples of the volunteer frenzy other neighborhoods have received.
In the absence of outside help, neighbors banded together to help each other.
The day after the storm there was a “lot of laughing, a lot of crying,” said Peggy Sigcha, resident of the Greenlawn Bungalow Colony, a grouping of 40 or so one- and two-story bungalows on the waterside of Emmons Avenue, near Batchelder Street. We met Sigcha while in the home of another resident, who preffered to remain anonymous for this article. Sigcha and her mother stopped by to drop off hot food for the neighbor, just one of the ways neighbors here are caring for each other in the wake of the storm.
“Your Jack-and-Cokes probably saved me the first night,” Sigcha joked.
Like a handful of other residents of the colony, Sigcha chose to ride out the storm in her home, just two houses in from the waterfront. She said that Hurricane Irene only stirred up ankle-high water in the colony, and she thought it would be no different.
But it was. The waves crashed in from the southeast, tearing apart the colony’s defunct boathouse, a decrepit wooden structure at the end of a 40-foot-long pier that collapsed and swept into the colony, crashing into its front-most houses.
“The first thing we saw go was the boathouse. The second thing we saw was a sailboat [that floated up the colony's alley]. It was coming right up in our yard,” Sigcha said. She glanced away from the sailboat, she said, and when she looked back it was gone – and so was the corner of the house directly across the alley from her. “We think it took a sharp left and took out the house on the corner before going back out.”
Additionally, two of the three houses closest to the water collapsed almost completely. The third, in the middle of a renovation, was saved – but the renovation will need to start anew.
“The debris was shoulder height, and the waves were like surfing waves,” Singcha said. “Someone’s roof landed on my deck. Someone’s front door was on my roof.”
Half the colony remained without power on Tuesday, but neighbors strung extension cords through homes to help set up dehumidifiers, lights and electric heaters. They also dodged Department of Buildings inspectors, who were booting those from unstable houses and telling others that jerry-rigged electrical systems were unacceptable.
While the Department of Buildings became ever present, the police did not. One resident complained of frequent looting. Several homeowners said that opportunists had gone through their belongings for days after the storm. They also witnessed groups of young men checking car door handles along pitch black Emmons Avenue. There was no police response, though they saw plenty of lights and sirens across the Bay in Manhattan Beach.
“We had no cops down here,” said the anonymous resident. “We did not see police at all.” He griped that the cops could have at least done more to comfort residents. “If you know there’s going to be a communications blackout, reach out to the community and reassure them.”
The resident said looting dropped off by itself, as some neighbors have returned and looters have taken all that’s worth taking from other homes.
It’s a similar story down the road at Port Sheepshead Bay at Webers Court, just south of Nostrand Avenue’s terminus, a half-block long bungalow colony that ends in a small marina where visitors could rent jet skis, and where the landlord operated a small boat repair shop.
As in Greenlawn, every house flooded to about five feet of water in the first floor. Family heirlooms were lost, and the home nearest the water was boarded up on Monday.
And the repair shop? Shambles. It collapsed completely, and jet skis and boat parts were tossed over it like roses at a funeral, another Sheepshead Bay business lost to Sandy’s wrath.
Still, the residents of these two waterfront bungalow communities say they plan to rebuild, not abandon. Many were already ripping out drywall and insulation, and even though the Department of Sanitation had already made a half dozen pickups, debris packed the curbs and alleyways.
Despite two evacuations in two years and widespread damage within their colony, residents are buckling down, not running away.
“We’re staying,” said the unnamed resident. “It’s our neighborhood.”