WASHINGTON — Superstorm Sandy hit much too close to home for Richard Indahl of Washington.
Although Indahl and his wife, the former Martha Jane McKown, have made their home in Washington for the past 33 years, Indahl owns a house in Sheepshead Bay, N.Y., which was directly in the superstorm’s path. The Indahls’ daughter, Sarah (Indahl) Jordan, a 2008 Washington High School graduate and 2012 Indiana University graduate, lives in the house with her husband, Brian, and Indahl’s uncle, Tony Annelli.
“In July, my uncle Tony turned 90 and deeded the property to me,” Indahl said, adding the property had been deeded to Annelli in 1987 and he called it “Rain or Shine.” “It’s on the waterfront, on a marina.”
He explained Sheepshead Bay is located in Brooklyn, between Coney Island and the Rockaways. His two-story house there is situated on a small plot of land next to three restaurants and a movie theater complex with a three-story parking garage, he said.
“It’s right across the way from Breezy Point where all those houses burned up,” Indahl said. “A hundred and eleven houses burned down as a result of the storm.
“Fifty-thousand homes got hit in that area from New Jersey all the way up to Connecticut.”
“Rain or Shine” was one of them. Indahl said he was talking with Sarah Oct. 29 when, at 9 p.m., high tide water began rising rapidly. Annelli had told Sarah and Brian that water had come up to the porch before, so at first they weren’t too concerned. But Superstorm Sandy drove the water much higher and the three had to rush from the house without emergency supplies.
“I was on the phone with Sarah, and I told her to get in the car and get to the second level of the parking garage,” Indahl said. “They followed my instructions. They barely made it, it was coming so fast. They saved the car.
“They were there overnight. It was pretty cold. The water kept on rising and rising. I knew their best protection from flooding would be the parking garage.”
He said three Russian women also had taken shelter in the parking garage.
“The mayor pleaded for evacuation, but many people ignored it,” Indahl said.
Sitting in Indiana listening to WCBS am 880 around-the-clock news, Indahl said, he listened through the night. Fortunately, he said there were no problems with cellular phone service in Sheepshead Bay, so he was able to maintain contact with Sarah, Brian and Annelli.
“It was excellent,” Indahl said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without the cell phones. I would’ve been frightened to death.”
Ultimately, 5 feet of water swept into the house, decimating everything on the main floor.
“Everything in the house got destroyed,” Indahl said. “It even flipped the piano over. The salt water damage is very bad. The lower story got wiped out.”
He said there could be $150,000 to $175,000 or more damage based on a contractor estimate. Indahl said the exterior damage isn’t very obvious, but the foundation shifted a little and there was quite a bit of interior structural damage on the downstairs level.
“The next-door neighbor owns the marina,” he continued. “He had two tanks mounted outside the house - one for diesel oil and one for diesel fuel - and a tree came down on them. They broke loose and ruptured and contaminated the whole area. That’s one reason the damage is so high. It’s all a toxic mess.
“Very few things were salvageable. I spent five days there cleaning up. One company came out voluntarily and drained the oil tank (that fueled Indahl’s house). Concerned friends came to help us out for many days. The job was enormous.”
Indahl said it was six days before he could even reach Brooklyn because of storm damage and continued inclement weather. He finally arrived on Nov. 8 and was able to stay in the Bronx, where he was born, and where his brothers Fortunato and Anthony still live near Yankee Stadium.
While his brothers had no damage in the Bronx, there was plenty between there and Brooklyn, which made his daily commute last two to three hours. Under ideal circumstances, he said, it would take about an hour and a half. But circumstances were anything but ideal there in Superstorm Sandy’s aftermath.
Indahl said more people were using the subway because many streets were impassable. But not all trains were running because the subway tunnels were flooded, so the transportation system was bogged down.
“When I got there the destruction was unbelievable,” he said, describing the streets and underlying infrastructure that were torn up by the storm. “There were long gas lines. Sarah used a gas generator and had to stand in line for hours. There was a police car at every gas station.”
Brian owns a sailboat, so the newlyweds lived on it for 18 days, until power was restored to the area. Because Annelli had trouble getting on and off the boat, Indahl said, Brian found a utility van he could stay in near the boat.
Once power and heat were restored, they were able to move back into the upper story of “Rain or Shine.” Although cleanup and reconstruction has been under way in Brooklyn, and things are beginning to get back to normal, Indahl said it’ll take a lot of work and money for things to get back to normal for Sarah and Brian.
The insurance company doesn’t want to cover the damage, he explained, because he didn’t have flood insurance. A Federal Emergency Management Agency inspector made a complete damage assessment and said he’d do his best to help them recover, according to Indahl. However, since the house is in his name, but is not his primary residence, there’s not much FEMA can do because the owner must live there to receive assistance. Indahl said an attorney is looking into the matter for them to determine their options.
“Sarah is depressed,” he said. “I told her she’s alive, be thankful. It’ll get better. Things could’ve been worse.”
According to Indahl, the couple is cash strapped. He said Sarah did an internship until August, and then she took care of Tony. Brian is a professional photographer. Indahl said he’s helping as much as he can, and Misty Stutzman, choir teacher at South Knox High School and a friend of Indahl’s, collected and contributed $150 toward their expenses.
“I named it the ‘Rain or Shine Fund,’” Indahl said.
“I’ve already decided to turn the house over to them and they can fix it up, but they’ll need $20,000 to $30,000 to start up.”
He said there’s a fear among New Yorkers now that another superstorm will strike next year around the same because Hurricane Irene hit the area almost a year ago to the day from this year’s Superstorm Sandy. Indahl said he believes global warming is behind weather disasters that seem to be more and more prevalent. However, he won’t forecast future catastrophic weather events.
“I made three predictions the first week in June: that the president would be elected again, the stock market would drop 300 points the day after the election, and there’d be a natural disaster worse than Katrina,” Indahl said. “All three came true, so I’m not making any more predictions now. I wish I hadn’t made those predictions.”