Broken Trees and Broken Homes in Greek Astoria


A tree falls in Astoria. Lives are spared, but “Everything is broken,” says the Greek woman whose house lay in the tree’s path.

A heavy tree lays lodged on Sophia Karamatzanis’ house the morning after Hurricane Sandy swept through New York. Credit: LAUREN DAVIDSON

On Tuesday morning, Sofia Karamatzanis stood on the sidewalk outside her house, at the corner of 28th Street and Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. She wore black clothes and a distressed look on her face. She was accompanied by her husband, who leaned wearily on a walking stick, and by her two sons and a large crowd of onlookers taking pictures with their phones.

They were all looking at the enormous tree that Hurricane Sandy had sent crashing onto Karamatzanis’ house.

Speaking in Greek, which was translated by a boy who had come to see the excitement on his day off from school, Karamatzanis said the tree fell about 10 p.m. Monday. She stayed inside the house with her husband, waiting until Tuesday morning to venture out and assess the damage.

The large tree, which tore up several paving stones when it was uprooted on the opposite side of the street, lay sideways across the road, its head jutting invasively over the small, semi-detached house. Electric wires dangled from their posts, a white iron gate sat lodged in a tangle of branches and a strip of corrugated roof lay forlorn in the middle of the street, surrounded by piles of soggy auburn leaves.

The damage to the house was not immediately apparent, as most of it was still buried in shrubbery. One of Karamatzanis’ sons stood on the roof, hacking away at thick branches with a chainsaw. At one point, he took a break to shout “clear” before letting a heavy chunk of wood roll off the side of the house onto the sidewalk.

Looking on, worried and helpless, Karamatzanis gestured with her arms as she remembered the impact of the tree landing on her home. Shaking her body, she said, “It felt like a bomb.”

Karamatzanis’ house was not the only casualty of the fallen tree on 28th Street. On its way down, the tree crushed two cars, one belonging to 27-year-old Konnie Koutsilianos, who lives across the street.

Koutsilianos said she parked on the street when the storm was already underway on Monday evening. “I got here last night and I left [my car] just ten minutes before this happened,” she said.

“I didn’t hear the crash. My mum said a tree had fallen in front of the house. I’m getting married in a year, I need my money. I can’t afford a new car, I really cannot,” Koutsilianos said, speaking with concerned eyes but a steady voice. Her close friend Angela Kalisti, one of several who had gathered to offer support, said Koutsilianos was mostly calm now because “she had had her moment earlier.” But Koutsilianos did not have insurance for her ten-year-old car, she added.

Murmurs from passers-by wafted over to where Koutsilianos stood. One offered the prognosis, “It’s going to take days to get this out.” Another concluded, “This car is not salvageable.” One woman, angry at the mob that had gathered, waved her fist in the air as she shouted, “This is like going to the Bronx Zoo.”

The uprooted tree pulled up several paving stones when it fell down during the windy storm. Credit: LAUREN DAVIDSON

While Astoria escaped most of the flooding, it did suffer fallen trees and damaged power lines. Dianna Loiselle, owner of Telly’s Taverna on 23rd Avenue, said her restaurant was still without all its power.

“All of our kitchens are working, but the men’s bathroom is out, the ice machine is out and half the restaurant has no light,” said Loiselle. “We’ll lose all our evening business because people won’t be able to sit here in the dark. We had a live Greek music night planned for tonight which we had to cancel. There’s no power for them to plug in their equipment.”

Balancing a toddler on her hip, Loiselle said she considered herself lucky that neither her house nor her restaurant were hit by falling trees. “It wasn’t raining so much, but on almost every street a tree has gone down,” she said.

“In the grand scheme of things, this is tiny,” said one local resident, comparing the destruction in Astoria to the far more dire reports coming out of parts of lower Manhattan and New Jersey. But as Karamatzanis put it as she stood desolately by her damaged house, “Look around you. Everything is broken.”



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