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The current interior state of the Murray home in Belle Harbor. Photo by: Ashling Colton

Irish family’s unending Hurricane Sandy nightmare, one year on

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The current interior state of the Murray home in Belle Harbor. Photo by: Ashling Colton

The World Meteorological Organization retired the name “Sandy” from the official list of Atlantic hurricane names. To remove a name from the list, the storm had to be so deadly, or so costly, that reusing the name would be “confusing or insensitive.”

For James Murray of Belle Harbor, in the Rockaways, “insensitive” is putting it mildly.

It has been a year since Hurricane Sandy blasted through the Northeast coast, leaving an estimated 650,000 destroyed or damaged homes in her wake. However, as is the case for many others, the dark clouds that rolled in on October 29, 2012 still have not subsided for Murray.

Three weeks prior, on October 8, Murray and his wife, Eileen Butler, became proud parents to a beautiful little girl named Jamie.

“I had the best day of life when my daughter was born and the worst day of my life exactly three weeks later when the storm hit,” Murray told the Irish Voice.

With a newborn, Murray paid heed to storm warnings, boarded up his home on Beach 127th Street and evacuated his family out of the Rockaways. Eileen’s mother and father, Waterford and Sligo natives respectively, took them in for what was going to be a long night of worry.

Returning to Belle Harbor the next day, Murray discovered that his worst fears had come to fruition. With six to eight feet of water running straight through the main floor of his home he lost nearly everything, including irreplaceable family heirlooms. The Rockaway bungalow had been in his family for three generations.

Sitting comfortably in the middle of the block, it was a fixture of the neighborhood. Murray’s grandmother had planted an apple tree in the front yard and neighborhood parents used to tell their children, “You can go out and play with your friends, but only go as far as the apple tree.”

Fixing the house up had been a labor of love, beginning with his grandfather and continuing when Murray took over the house and bit by bit, weekend project by weekend project, put his stamp on it. It was all taken from him in one night.

On day one of “recovery” Murray filed claims with his insurance company. After an inspection by the city, the house was issued a red sticker and deemed unsafe to be occupied or worked on until further inspection.

Murray took the initiative and covered all his bases by getting numerous builders’ reports and engineers’ reports, all of which agreed with the city. The house was unsafe and needed to come down.

So why does the house remain standing a year later? Although Murray’s insurance company was Travelers, the inspector assigned to his case was outsourced to a company called Colonial Claims. The inspector came to house once and seemingly vanished.

After months of trying to track him down with no success, Murray hired a public adjuster who contacted Travelers directly, only to discover that the countless reports that he supplied to the inspector were never passed along to Travelers. They had no record of damage to the Murray home.

After finally getting in touch with the outsourced inspector, instead of an apology or explanation, all Murray received was a threat.

“He told me if I kept causing problems for him the claim would never get settled,” Murray said.

Wanting this all behind him, Murray bit the bullet and just asked if they could move forward and get the matter resolved fairly.

Soon after, with no report attached and no explanation as to how the number was derived, Murray received a check for $70,000, only a fifth of the amount for the damage that he submitted evidence for.

After hiring an attorney and getting a copy of the “report,” it was evident that Murray’s address was slapped on to the report for another house as the dimensions, numbers of rooms and bathrooms were incorrect. Basically the $70,000 figure was pulled out of thin air in hopes that it would pacify Murray.

It didn’t.

He filed an appeal on the claim. On Labor Day he was visited by a FEMA adjustor who agreed that the actual damages were more in line with the numbers Murray had been supplying evidence for all along.

Good news? Maybe. More paperwork, more reports and more formalities are required before Murray can move on with his life.

The house can’t be torn down as yet because another inspector needs more proof of the anguish the Murray family has endured. All they can do is wait.

Murray wants nothing more than to put this nightmare behind him. He wants to rebuild. He wants to raise his daughter in the house he spent summers in with his grandmother, the house he bought with his wife, the house from which he can watch his daughter playing with the other neighborhood kids, who came as far as the apple tree.

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