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Oct 29, 2013 5:30 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

One Year Later, The Struggle Continues For Those Whose Homes Were Damaged By Sandy

Oct 30, 2013 11:59 AM

Babs Metzger and her family watched from the second floor as 7-foot waves surrounded their Flanders home, smashing through a sliding glass door, scattering their possessions and sending their deck sailing into a neighbor’s yard.A year later, a red sign hanging from the corner of the home serves as a reminder of all they lost when Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29, 2012, and their continuing attempts to put the pieces of their lives back together. “UNSAFE STRUCTURE,” it reads, “DO NOT ENTER.”

A total of 550 homes were damaged in Southampton Town during last fall’s storm, with the Bay View Pines neighborhood in Flanders, where the Metzgers live, and Shinnecock Shores in East Quogue bearing the worst of the destruction. One year later, many are still battling with insurance companies over their claims, repairing their homes and worrying about the next time.

Ms. Metzger said she and her husband, John, have owned the home, which overlooks Goose Creek and Flanders Bay, since around 1976. They live in the home full-time.

The storm damaged their home’s foundation, tore off the siding, soaked through the walls and ruined their major appliances. They have hired a carpenter to begin the repairs, which will cost thousands. Though the town deemed the house unsafe to live in, Ms. Metzger said her family opted to stay.

“I love it here,” she said on a recent sunny fall day, peering out at the water.

Though the state offered to consider buying them out, through its New York Rising Housing Recovery Program, Ms. Metzger explained that she wouldn’t even consider it. “I want to die here,” she said.

The state has, to date, invited 165 Southampton Town homeowners in high-risk flooding areas to apply for the buyout program. So far, 24 have applied and are waiting for the state to assess their homes and make an offer. The program allows the state to pay the pre-Sandy market value of a home, plus offer a 10-percent incentive, and homeowners can receive an additional 5 percent if they agree to buy another property somewhere in Suffolk County.

State officials have said that they will demolish the homes once they are purchased and preserve the land as open space or parkland in perpetuity. Houses in areas with less risk of flooding could also be acquired by the state at post-storm values and the land redeveloped.

Paul DiCenso, who owns a home off Dune Road in Hampton Bays, said he had about 15 inches of water inside it during the storm. He and his fiancée, Elizabeth Lindquist, were able to move back in around Memorial Day, after completing some of the repairs.

Mr. DiCenso said Southampton Town offered to purchase his property, which sits in a neighborhood targeted for preservation, over the summer but he turned down the offer, which he said was thousands less than fair market value, as determined by an assessor. He has since applied through the state and is awaiting its offer. If it’s too low, he added, they will consider lifting the home on pilings.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst explained in an email on Tuesday that the town had reached out to some property owners in areas targeted for preservation to discuss a possible buyout, though she added that the town recommends that interested homeowners apply for the state program, which has more flexibility in terms of offers and criteria for Sandy-damaged properties.

Just down the block and across the street from the Metzger home sits a small cottage owned by Paul Orlowski and his wife, Karel. He explained Sunday that they were in contract to purchase the larger home next door when the storm hit, foiling their plans to sell the cottage to help finance the purchase.

The flooding ripped off the back wall of the cottage and buckled its floor, destroying the interior. Though the home is insured for $180,000, the insurance company offered only half of that, despite an engineer’s determination that the cottage was totaled.

Mr. Orlowski said they are waiting to settle that battle before making any repairs. He has also submitted an application to the state buyout program and is awaiting an appraisal and offer. “We’d like to see the land preserved and not developed,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the end.”

While making sure the larger home next door, which will serve as a summer home, is prepared for the next hurricane by reinforcing its pilings, Mr. Orlowski said he still laments the loss of the cottage, which was built in 1909 and had a rich history. “I don’t think anybody expected this,” he said of the damage.

Further east, in Shinnecock Hills, Joe Corr and his family are preparing to enter a second winter without heat in their home, which was damaged extensively by an estimated 5 feet of flood water. He said he has purchased a couple of campers that they will take refuge in on cold nights.

Mr. Corr said he is still sorting through the process of getting his insurance money, though his company, Travelers, only offered just under a third of the estimated $400,000 in damage. “That’s not enough,” he said, adding that he has hired an attorney to represent him in that ongoing battle.

Last week, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend the deadline for challenging an insurer’s claim amount in court. Under the current FEMA guidelines, homeowners have one year from the date they received the first written response from their insurer to challenge the amounts. Mr. Schumer explained in a press release that many families have not yet received a final determination on how much they are owed.

Mr. Corr, like many of his neighbors, is in the process of lifting his house on pilings, which he estimated will cost close to $100,000 to complete. “It’s been an experience,” he said on Tuesday. “Every day you relive part of Sandy, because you find more and more stuff that has been ruined.”

Southampton Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone, who also lives in Shinnecock Hills with is wife, Gail, said he was also working through the grueling process to receive assistance through the NY Rising Housing Recovery Program. His home sustained significant damage in the storm.

Mr. Zappone explained that the experience has taken an emotional toll, and that worries were only compounded with each prediction of an active hurricane season. To help families cope with that stress, the town invited representatives from Project Hope, a program run through the New York State Office of Mental Health, to run a support group.

Joyce and Bill Reller, whose Flanders home was damaged by Sandy, said they attend the meetings with the small group each Wednesday at the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders and have benefited from the program. They also complemented the town on its efforts to help the community.

Despite the heartache that the storm caused, the Rellers, the Metzgers and Mr. Zappone shared the similar belief that their damaged homes were worth fighting for.

“This is where I live. It’s my primary residence,” said Mr. Zappone, who is running for a seat on the Southampton Town Board on Tuesday. “If I’m not willing to put up with a little grief and a lot of red tape in order to protect it, then I probably should sell it. It’s not a luxury item—it’s my home.”

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