Long Beach family recovers from Sandy, slowly

Karen Alexander, 42, with her kids Harry, 5, Karen Alexander, 42, with her kids Harry, 5, and Jessie, 10, in the dining room of their Long Beach home. Newsday revisited the Alexanders after spending 24 hours with the family on Nov. 8 documenting how they lived through the devastating storm. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

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Editors' note: Newsday reporter Beth Whitehouse spent 24 hours with the Alexander family of Long Beach on Nov. 8 and 9, their 10th and 11th day living in a cold, dark, damaged house after superstorm Sandy. Whitehouse went back to check in with them.

Sandy is dead.

The Alexander family had hoped the tiny fish that swam into their house during superstorm Sandy would make it until their lives got back to normal. Sandy swam until the electricity came back on in the Alexanders' Long Beach home two weeks after the storm.

"The lights came on and the fish's lights went off," said Olivia Lorch-Jaffe, 71.

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The six family members -- Ted Alexander, 39; his wife, Karen, 42; his stepdaughter Ashley Russo, 20; the Alexanders' two children, Jessie, 10, and Harry, 5; and Karen's mother, Lorch-Jaffe -- haven't had a chance to be sad. Other issues have been keeping them busy since Sandy flooded the first floor of their split-level, destroying Russo's bedroom and Lorch-Jaffe's living quarters.

They've lost and landed jobs, shopped for appliances and cars, and spent hours dealing with insurance issues. They said they have been awed by the kindness of strangers while living with the chaos that accompanies rebuilding.

The Alexanders celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. Lorch-Jaffe usually makes 100 latkes for the extended family's celebration. "I said I wasn't up for it this year," she said.

The family had to store so many things in the attic after the storm that Karen Alexander said she didn't have the energy to dig out the floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree and star that crowns it. Instead, she purchased a small tree that she and Harry topped with a bow.

"Everything came so fast," Karen said. "There was no looking forward to it."


To-do list is long

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The family had four cars before the storm. All were destroyed.

Automobile insurance gave the Alexanders $7,500 for their minivan, which the couple spent to help buy a used replacement. The Honda Odyssey they picked cost them more than the $7,500, they said.

The car that Ted Alexander drove to his job as a mail handler for the U.S. Postal Service in East New York, Brooklyn, wasn't insured for damage, and they chose not to replace it.

"We weren't in a financial position to go out and get a new car," Karen Alexander said.

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Lorch-Jaffe was able to get a new car because hers had been leased. Russo is borrowing her grandmother's car to drive to school at Nassau Community College; the Kia Sportage Russo owned wasn't insured for damage, either. Russo can walk to her waitress job at The Bungalow in Long Beach.

"I don't have to spend money on gas," she said.

The Alexanders' flood insurance claim hasn't been resolved. They received a $5,000 advance but have spent an additional $25,000 so far to replace the walls and flooring, they said. Karen Alexander said they are waiting for an another $15,000 payment.

Strangers have offered assistance. After reading about the Alexanders in Newsday, Dave McDonald, who owns Rockville Hardware in Rockville Centre with his wife, Christine, helped the Alexanders temporarily repair their stone porch.

"I call him my guardian angel," Karen Alexander said. "I just accepted that people are really kindhearted."


Emotional costs

The Alexanders said they spent $1,600 for a new washer and dryer -- they'd been spending about $50 per week at a laundry since the storm. Lorch-Jaffe also got a new $600 refrigerator. The Alexanders said they didn't have contents insurance on their flood policy.

The clothing store where Lorch-Jaffe worked part time -- Jones New York in Oceanside -- shut down after Sandy, so she was out of a job. She's still bunking with Jessie in a bedroom upstairs and said she can't wait to get back into her own room, even if it has only a bed. She's tired of the lack of order.

Karen Alexander landed a job as a sitter for her next-door neighbor's baby.

"We go back and forth on being devastated," her husband said. But the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., helps him keep perspective. After that, "How do you feel bad about any situation that you're in?" he said.

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