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Sandy fixes: 'I'm not getting anyplace'

Eileen Barry in her home studio which, along

Eileen Barry in her home studio which, along with her home, was heavily damaged by superstorm Sandy. (Jan. 22, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

In Eileen Barry's studio, milk crates filled with sodden art books await the garbage bin.

The sculptor has thrown away many personal items since Sandy wrecked her East Islip home near the Great South Bay, but can't bring herself to toss the treasured books, collected over three decades.

"This is where Kevin was so good," she said of her late husband, who died last year. "He would just walk in here and say, 'Eileen, they have to go!' And sooner or later, we'd find a way to laugh."

Before Sandy struck, Barry worked in the studio at the northern end of the two-story home she had shared with her husband of 25 years.

The storm not only brought saltwater into the house, it shifted the structure. Cracks are visible near some roof joists.

At first, Barry tried to remain in the house, juggling her sculpting with insurance paperwork and appointments with contractors eager to do work -- but, she said, reticent to give a price.

In mid-November, sickened by the cold and damp, she checked into the Courtyard by Marriott in Ronkonkoma and remains there, making the 45-minute drive to her home several times a week.

Barry has estimates of more than $300,000 in needed repairs -- including $23,000 to $65,000 for plumbing, hot water and heating repairs alone.

So far, flood insurance has given a $15,000 advance and homeowners insurance has offered $7,700. She's already spent more than that for initial repairs, some for mold work that wasn't done properly.

She worries about proceeding with major repairs until the insurance picture is clearer, and she's acutely aware of the challenge of finding qualified help.

"You're sick, you're freezing, and then these contractors keep coming at you in waves," she said. "The moment they're in the door, they're looking to do more than the thing you've asked them there for . . . It absolutely frightens you. How can I tear my whole house apart? And these contractors never seem to have people who will put it back together."

Barry admits she is struggling. She's lost artistic rapport with her latest work, an 8-foot-by-8-foot stand of clay with partially realized figures.

"I have to get it back," she said, "but just now . . . the piece doesn't talk to me anymore."

She's furious that she feels so overwhelmed and vulnerable.

"I'm a strong woman. I know that, but I have come and literally cried my eyes out here," Barry said. "It's not as if I can't grasp what needs doing. I've built industrial trailers. I've worked in bronze, granite and marble. I can build things from concept to 20 feet.

"But the lack of knowledge and trust does your head in," she said, "and it's frustrating because I'm not getting anyplace."

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