The only entrance to Lake Avenue became impassable once water started tumbling down from Emmons Avenue, and debris littered the alleyway.
There is no shortage of heroes that came out of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, but it seems everyone on Lake Avenue agrees that two quick thinking residents of their bungalow colony and a nearby landlord are their first first responders.
The Nostrand Avenue condo building where Lake Avenue residents found refuge from the flood.
One of several Lake Avenue buildings that are now deemed uninhabitable by the Department of Buildings.
When flood waters breached the bulkhead of Sheepshead Bay and engulfed Emmons Avenue, it advanced forward, rushing into the bungalow colony alleys located below street level. With no drainage systems, approximately 60 residents of Lake Avenue – just off Nostrand Avenue and Emmons Avenue – realized their one-story bungalows were about to be submerged.
“All of a sudden the water started pouring into the house. My 94-year-old father and I live in the house together,” said Lake Avenue resident Wendy Mitchell.
That’s when neighbors Missy Haggerty and Peter McCandless rushed out of their homes and began banging on doors, telling people to get out. Some were sleeping or in the middle of eating dinner, and looked up the block to see a waterfall rushing down the steps into the colony’s dead end alley.
“I got out and I’m trying to hold the door open [for my 94-year-old father] and Peter got him out finally,” Mitchell said. “When we first left, the water was up to the knees. By the time we got about five houses down it was under my arms. I’m five-foot-five and it was under my arms.”
Mitchell said she never would have been able to get out of there if it weren’t for Missy and Peter – and the landlord of a nearby building that abuts the alley.
Bob Haggerty, whose house was nearly destroyed in a Lake Avenue fire on February 10, has a simple but powerful message for Sheepshead Bay residents: start giving a damn about your community.
During the Sheepshead Bay / Plumb Beach Civic Association Meeting last Tuesday, Haggerty took the floor to talk about the squalid conditions of a neighboring home – which he said belonged to a “slum lord” – that caught fire, spreading to his home while he napped inside. The legally blind Haggerty made it out safely and now lives up the block with his daughter until repairs can be made. But, the night of the fire, Haggerty and his daughter Melissa were incensed at their neighbor, cursing her out, and devastated by the city’s lack of action despite repeated complaints.
But on Tuesday night, Haggerty didn’t come to complain about the Department of Buildings or other city agencies for their lack of action.
Robert Haggerty was taking an afternoon nap when a neighbor woke him with shouts that his Lake Avenue home was on fire yesterday. The legally blind longtime Sheepshead Bay resident bolted out of bed and out the door, in time to find the home next door ablaze, and flames licking the side of his house.
“I’m just glad somebody woke him up, otherwise he’d be dead,” said a close relative who lives up the block.
In the bungalow colonies, wooden homes nearly 100 years old line the alleyway with little room in between. Only about three feet wide, the “avenue” in front of their home is nothing more than a walking path, and fire trucks are denied access. A small fire can quickly wipe out a community.
Luckily for Lake Avenue residents, scores of firefighters made it to the scene, linking hoses together and containing the blaze that started at 8 Lake Avenue in about 20 minutes. While Haggerty’s home next door had severe damage, and many of his belongings are headed for the trash, he did manage to save a prized possession: an urn with his deceased wife’s remains.
But, to Haggerty and other neighbors, the fire itself wasn’t much of a surprise. They say the property owner is a slumlord with a record of abuse.