Sandy Survivors Still Grappling with Memories of Those They Lost

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gale and Santo Lisa on their raised back deck, where Sandy's floodwaters reached. Over Santo's shoulder, across the street, is the lot that once held the house of Diane and Ella Norris. (Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

Until last October, Santo and Gale Lisa had spent 30 dry years in their house in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island. No wave had ever come close to cresting the raised boulevard that lies between them and the beach.

But then Sandy pushed a white-capped surge of water down their street. "That's how fast it came in: boom, boom," Santo Lisa said.

But that was only the start of the couple's trauma. Before the night was over, their 89 year-old neighbor across the street, Ella Norris, would be dead.

"It was horrible," Gale Lisa said. "Thinking about it gives me chills."

Ms. Lisa still struggles with her memories from that night. Like others, she has turned to counseling for help. She's improving—"I laugh more now," she said—but knows a full recovery will take time.

New York state estimates that its crisis counseling program has been contacted a million times by people affected by Sandy. Christian Burgess, a helpline director at The Mental Health Association of New York City, said media coverage of the storm's first anniversary is also likely to stir up emotions in survivors.

"It exposes them to memories—sights, sounds that might take them back to the disaster," Burgess said. "And if they've had struggles in the past year, that can trigger flashbacks, nightmares."

To hear the full story, click on the audio player.

Ella Norris, who died in Storm Sandy.
Jim O'Grady/WNYC
The lot on Buel Avenue where the Norris house once stood.
Jim O'Grady/WNYC
Memorial stone for Ella Norris and James Rossi, a neighbor who drowned in the flood.
Jim O'Grady/WNYC


Matthew Schuerman


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Comments [2]

Lori from Lindenhurst NY

I'm from Lindenhurst Long Island and as I walk through the streets I see many houses eerily perched on stilts waiting for their new foundations that will keep them up high and dry. Still just a shell not the "working home" they once were, waiting for the elements that will make it habitable again. Families are still in apartments and hotels long after FEMA stopped paying for their lodging and our local school was closed and put up for sale due to lack of enrollment. Last week at the funeral for my friend's father she explained to us that a few days before he passed he told her that he knew he was dying but wondered if she needed his help. He was in so much pain but did not want to leave his family. He wanted to know if she had resolved the situation with her destroyed house. She told him that her ordeal with the insurance company was over and that they had agreed to pay her for her ruined home and that she was planning to purchase a larger house. She promised him that her mom would be able to move in and have her own apartment. Her dying father asked her is she was telling the truth and she replied "why would I lie dad? I'm all set and you don't have to worry. It was clear that he was relieved. I passed by her house the other day and the For Sale by Owner sign is still on the door. A good portion of the land was washed away and the house leans precariously. She lied.

Oct. 24 2013 10:13 AM
Webb Eaken, LMSW from New York, NY

This is an important report. I am a social worker doing post-disaster counseling with Sandy victims in the New York area through a program with the Visiting Nurses Service of New York called the Disaster Distress Response Program.

We offer a free 10-week course of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, working with people in their homes. Many New Yorkers are still feeling stressed and depressed a year later. Below is a link to an article about our program, if you or somehow you know is still feeling psychological distress after Sandy, which is normal, please take advantage of this free service.

Oct. 23 2013 11:52 AM

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