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Surviving Hurricane Sandy rss

Posted on: September 11th, 2013

Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy, the imprint of the storm’s devastation remains large. UJA-Federation of New York and our network of agencies have helped tens of thousands of people hurt by the storm, and here is one of their stories:

Hurricane Sandy recovery

Joseph Agrest with his grandson, born two months after Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of Greg Agrest

Joseph Agrest was born in Belarus and immigrated to New York in 1996. He and his family have lived in Seagate since 2000 and experienced the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy, which forced them from their home for several months, destroyed treasured belongings, and threatened financial havoc. Despite his family’s losses, Agrest, who is the sports and fitness director at the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, a network agency of UJA-Federation, continued working and found much-needed support.

What happened to your family during Hurricane Sandy?

We were all at home. We saw water on the street, and I told my oldest son, pregnant daughter-in-law, and my two other children to get in the car and get out of here. My wife and I decided to stay. The water came so fast and massive, they were unable to drive. The water was waist deep. My son helped my daughter-in-law, who was seven months pregnant, swim through the floodwaters. It was  scary, and I consider myself a tough man.

My wife and I stayed with relatives until the end of November, when our house got electricity, water, and heat back. My younger son and daughter stayed with grandparents until right before the New Year. On December 28th, our grandson was born. My older son and daughter-in-law lived with relatives on Long Island and moved back on April 1st.

What happened to your home?

My son and daughter-in-law lived in our basement apartment. It was destroyed. Our basement was flooded completely. FEMA measured seven feet, 10 inches of water. We lost our library, office, winter clothes, tools, gas burner, electrical meter, and water units. We lost our cars. But it’s not about the valuables we lost. We lost all the letters my wife and I wrote to each other before we were married and living in different places. A lot of our pictures did not survive. That’s memory. You cannot replace it.

Hurricane Sandy damage

Some of the destruction in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy.

How did the Marks JCH help you?

I had flexibility with work when I needed it. In the beginning, because I lost my car, I walked three miles to work. I have volleyball classes at night and for me it was a relief to work with the kids. But one of the big problems was how could we afford to pay for everything we’d need to rebuild. We’re normal Americans living paycheck to paycheck. The most important thing from Marks JCH was the moral support I received from all of the staff. Marks JCH gave us cash assistance for basic needs, started a Hurricane Assistance Center that was extremely helpful with advocacy for our case, and helped with scholarships for my child to attend camp.

Marks JCH also referred me for a loan through the Hebrew Free Loan Society, a UJA-Federation network agency. I’m very grateful to have an interest-free loan and have four years to pay it back. Now we’re done with construction. The only thing left is to pay back the loans. As long as I’m working, as long as my wife is working, we will rebuild our lives.