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Four Years After Superstorm Sandy, A Home Is Rebuilt in Broad Channel

One family in Broad Channel, Queens has something special to celebrate this holiday season. After struggling for four years to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, they finally got their home back last month. Sushmita Pathak reports.

[SOUND: seagulls, wind ambi (24s)]

Karen Contreras has a beautiful two story home in Broad Channel, Queens. It has cheerful, bright yellow walls, and a pretty wooden deck. Looking out of the window you can see the A train going over the water or hear the gentle lapping of the waves. But four years ago, when superstorm Sandy hit the city, Karen Contreras’ house was destroyed.

Contreras 1: Coming home, it was like walking into a warzone. There were boats on the street, houses down. (7s)

Karen took me around the house to show where the damage had occurred.

Contreras 2: So this room is what they did. That corner was where the wall was leaking. Here is where the deck came into the house, this spot. (10s)

After the storm, Karen and her husband applied to Build It Back, the city’s post-Sandy rebuilding program. But like most applicants, they encountered a big bureaucratic maze.

Contreras 3: They would lose papers that they have scanned into their computers. Constantly the same papers, the same things over and over. (9s)

With Build It Back, they came to an unexpected roadblock. Karen’s husband Sabino Contreras is from El Salvador, but after marrying Karen 28 years ago, he did not renew his green card. This.. was a problem.

Contreras 4: So they said ok once you get the card fixed we can help you. It would cost us $450. So, I was able to borrow the money. We got everything fixed. (12s)

But after going through all that trouble and shelling out more money than they could afford for the green card, Build It Back still denied the Contreras’ application. The reason: a couple of lost receipts.

Contreras 6: It takes so much out of you. (2s)

After the Build It Back fiasco, Karen sunk into depression.

Contreras 7: It really does. I wound up having a breakdown and was in the hospital. I am so scared of storms. I used to love the water and loved listening to it and now, I have bad dreams. (18s)

Then last year, someone introduced Karen to Friends of Rockaway, a non-profit organization. Zach Cheney is the volunteer coordinator there. He says many people who can’t work it out with Build It Back come to them.

Cheney 1: We are the only non-profit rebuild left in Queens and we’re going to be here until nobody needs our help anymore. (6s)

Contreras 8: You know, I don’t know how I could thank them. (2s)

Karen Contreras says Friends of Rockaway fought to get her the help she needed.

Contreras 9: I got my kitchen and I’m back to a little bit of normalcy. I feel like they are my family now. (7s)

This year alone, Friends of Rockaway rebuilt 65 houses. And just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, the Contreras had their homecoming. Karen baked a big batch of cookies in her new kitchen, someone got a cake, and for the first time in four years, Karen was home.

Now, Karen is preparing for Christmas. Her son and his family, including her toddler grandson are coming to meet them from Florida.

Contreras 10: I haven’t seen the grand baby since, I think, July. So they’re coming for Christmas so I’m like…I’m putting a tree up. I haven’t put a tree up in so long. (13s)

But not all families are as lucky, says Karen.

Contreras 11: You know I’m blessed because I have my house. You know, but there are people out there who are not living in their house. They’re paying mortgage for a house they can’t live in and they’re paying rent for an apartment. (18s)

In this small neighborhood in Broad Channel alone, there are many families still waiting to get home.

Sushmita Pathak, Columbia Radio News.


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