After Tragic Loss During Hurricane Sandy, a Woman Chooses Not to Return

11.10.2013 17:01

Patricia Dresch and her husband,
George, lived in their home in
Tottenville, Staten Island, for about 30
years, a wood-frame house where they
raised two daughters.
Storms had threatened before,
sometimes leaving behind a few feet of
water. The family evacuated for
Hurricane Irene, but when they
returned they found that their home
had been looted. So when Hurricane
Sandy approached, the Dreschs and
their younger daughter — their older
daughter lives in Nashville — decided to
“At the time,” said Ms. Dresch’s brother,
Gerald Spero, “you don’t know.”
Huge waves crashed over Yetman
Avenue, where the Dresch family lived.
The water came inside fast. The family
fled to the second floor, water rising to
their chests. The roof buckled and the
house gave way. The body of Angela,
the Dresch’s younger daughter, who was
13, was later found on the lawn. Mr.
Dresch’s body was found in a wooded
area several blocks away. Ms. Dresch,
the only one of the three in the home to
survive, was found about a block
“I still can’t believe it,” Ms. Dresch said
Thursday. “Everything is gone in a
flash. I lost my daughter, my husband.
You have to live all over again, in a
different way.”
On Thursday, Ms. Dresch, 53, appeared
at a news conference at Staten Island
Borough Hall with Mayor Michael R.
Bloomberg and other officials, who
introduced her as the first homeowner
to be bought out under New York City’s
Hurricane Sandy recovery program.
“No one can ever replace what Pat
Dresch has lost,” said Brad Gair,
director of the mayor’s office of
housing recovery operations. But now,
he said, Ms. Dresch can use the money
to buy a place “she can call home.”
City officials would not disclose the
amount they paid Ms. Dresch, but such
programs generally give homeowners
the pre-storm market value of their
homes. The idea is to limit the damage
of future storms by reducing the
number of properties in flood-prone
areas, though the city said another
buyer could purchase the property in
the future and put up a new structure,
as long as it is built to withstand floods.
Another program run by the state is in
the process of buying about 400
properties a few miles to the north, in
Oakwood Beach, Staten Island.
The Dresch property is now not much
more than an empty lot: only the front
steps remain, along with a hole that
used to be the basement space. The
flood surge pushed the home off its
The storm scattered mementos. Ms.
Dresch’s wedding dress was found in a
tree by the house. Someone found it,
got it cleaned and returned it to her
about five months ago. Also found
nearby were her rosary beads, pictures
of her wedding, and other family
After the storm, Ms. Dresch spent weeks
in the hospital recovering from her
injuries. She cannot bring herself to go
back to the site. She has been living in
the rectory of the church where she
works as a teacher, Our Lady Help of
Christians. Ms. Dresch sleeps on a
pullout bed on the first floor. “I can’t
sleep upstairs alone yet,” she said.
She attends bereavement group
meetings, and sometimes finds herself
talking to her husband and daughter.
Some days she just cries.
Ms. Dresch’s brother and his children
visit on weekends, as do other family
members. They take her shopping or
out to lunch, as she never drove — her
husband would take her everywhere.
At the news conference she thanked the
mayor and other elected officials, and
thanked the community for its support,
which has included clothing, food, hugs
and prayers.
Life has returned slowly through little
things like buying her own clothes and
going back to work. Ms. Dresch is in
the process of buying a new home in
Tottenville, but above Hylan Boulevard,
away from the water.
“Now, maybe, I’m able to move on a
little bit,” Ms. Dresch said.