With sea wall crushed, new storm prompts fears at tip of Brooklyn

A man searches the property of a relative for anything of sentimental value in the Sea Gate neighborhood of Brooklyn's Coney Island.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

SEA GATE, N.Y. -- Michael Szajngarten stopped picking up pieces of his shattered home to look through the hole Hurricane Sandy ripped in his living room wall, giving him an unobstructed ocean view.

“I hear we’ll get snow soon,” he said. “I just feel like it’s insult to injury.”

Just outside were remnants of a concrete sea wall, a barrier built to protect homes here from high surf and storm surge. But super storm Sandy crushed parts of the wall, and a new storm -- a nor’easter -- is brewing in the Atlantic, threatening to hit the coast again.

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The National Weather Service predicted on Monday that the storm will move up the New Jersey coast into New York on Wednesday, with winds up to 50 mph, heavy rains and “minor to moderate” flooding. The collapse of man-made and natural barriers during Sandy is already raising fears the storm could cause new damage and hamper cleanup and repairs already underway.

In Sea Gate, at the southwestern end of Brooklyn’s Coney Island, nearly three-fourths of the sea wall around the community’s nearly two-mile shoreline was destroyed by last week’s storm, according to Pinny Dembitzer, president of the Sea Gate Assn. The high waves crushed parts of the wall built just of concrete, and in other areas, stripped the concrete from underlying steel in some areas.

“Without this sea wall it’s like we’re without protection and without this, any small storm we get, water will come right back down to Sea Gate,” Dembitzer said. “It’s just another catastrophe waiting to happen.”

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Nearly 25 of the 850 homes in Sea Gate were lost during Sandy. One house looked as though the ocean grabbed the foundation and took it out to sea. About half of the other homes suffered damage, although no one was injured or killed.

Dembitzer said he is trying to convince Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to create an office within the community, pressing on them the importance of reconstructing the sea wall from steel. If the wall isn’t rebuilt, he worries residents won’t rebuild their homes.


“That’s what we hope and pray for,” he said. “…Otherwise people will stay in ruins.”

Szajngarten, 33, and six friends were removing rubble from his house, and mud from the basement. A neighbor’s house already has been condemned, he said.

“If there’s no protection, the water could come back into my house and any effort and energy that I would put into it would be a total loss and waste of energy and time,” he said. “Why build a house?”

He gets anxious just thinking of the coming storm.

“I have a giant hole and I’m trying to clean it out and the last thing I need now is for rain to wash everything away and make it all muddy again,” he said. “It’ll make it so much harder than it already is.”


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