WOODSIDE — The cleanup and rebuilding of St. Mary’s Winfield Church in Woodside following the massive rainstorm that flooded the building on Sept. 1 will have to be measured in months, not weeks, the pastor said.
“The initial cleanup took a long time,” Father Christopher O’Connor said. “The cleaning crew was here for three weeks before they could finish. We couldn’t do anything until then.”
But nearly two months after the remnants of Hurricane Ida pummeled the East Coast and dumped nearly seven inches of rain on some parts of New York City, progress is being made at St. Mary’s Winfield, where sections of the church had been under 10 feet of water during the height of the storm.
The flooding destroyed the lower church, the adoration chapel, and a classroom that had been used for faith formation classes.
The boiler was somehow salvaged and was finally returned to operation last week. Electricians have started rewiring the lower church, although they are finding evidence of Ida’s long-lasting effects. “When they pulled the wiring out to replace the conduits, there was still water coming out of the conduits,” Father O’Connor said.
Water-damaged statues have been sent out for restoration, and Father O’Connor is considering having the doors re-done. “It’s slower than how I would have liked to do things. Some contractors are quick to respond. Some take their time,” he said.
More worrisome to Father O’Connor is the human toll the storm took. Several parishioners were flooded out of their homes. While some were able to return after a cleanup, thanks to donations of clothing and furniture from Catholic Charities, others are still staying with friends or relatives.
Father O’Connor is trying to locate new housing for them but has been thwarted by the reality of the real estate market in New York. “It’s been frustrating. To find two-bedroom places like they had that are affordable is virtually impossible,” he said.
One parishioner, Leticia Orta, who lost nearly everything when the basement apartment she had been living in for 12 years was flooded, has been able to find a studio apartment about a half-mile away from her old place.
“I’m so lucky,” she said. Orta has received donations from neighbors and from Catholic Charities. As a result, she has been able to begin furnishing the apartment. “People have been generous to me.”
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, she stayed temporarily in a room offered by a fellow parishioner and then lived with her nephew.
With her storm ordeal still on her mind, Orta said she loves going to Mass at St. Mary’s Winfield and expressing her gratitude to God. “I thought God would help me, and He did,” she said.
Repairs and rebuilding of the church itself are expected to cost upwards of $1 million. Insurance is footing much of the bill, but the parish has also received donations, unlcuding $50,000 from a graduate of St. Mary’s Winfield School.
The storm hit Woodside particularly hard, flooding numerous homes.
Homeowner Danette Rivera’s basement was flooded, and she’s still coping with the aftermath.
“We didn’t have to find a new place to live because the basement was flooded but the first and second floors did not get flooded,” she said. “We’re trying to get back to business as usual, except that the boiler is not working. I need a new boiler.”
Her basement still contains a small amount of debris and mold, and the odor of water damage still rises into the first-floor living room, she said.
Rivera was trapped in her basement on the night of the storm.
“I had closed the door of the basement thinking that I would be able to slow the water from coming in. But the water wasn’t coming in through the entrance; it was coming through the sewers and backing into my house,” she said.
Her son Justin, who is legally blind, pulled her out of the house through the basement window, saving her life.
“I believe if my son wasn’t home, I would have drowned,” she said.
The storm brought out kindness in many people in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Julia Manning, an eighth-grader at St. Sebastian Catholic Academy in Flushing, set up a GoFundMe page with help from her mother Amy Manning to raise money for her former kindergarten teacher, Stephanie Marchetti. The teacher had been flooded out of her Middle Village apartment. The campaign raised $3,000.
“It feels really good to help somebody in need out,” Julia said last week. The funding effort brought the Manning family closer, her mother said, adding, “It made me realize it’s really gratifying to do something like this with your child and to work together to help someone that you both care about.”
Marchetti, who now teaches at a charter school in Elmhurst, was grateful for the help. “I lost everything,” she said. “I was sleeping on an air mattress for a while. People were so generous.”
But the personal inconveniences left behind by the storm still linger; Marchetti has not been able to return to her apartment and is staying with her mother on Long Island.
“I used to walk to work,” she said. “Now, it’s an hour-and-a-half drive.”