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School in New York's Chelsea neighborhood begins healing process after Hurricane Sandy

Workers at the Guardian Angel School and Church in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan bring classroom debris to the courtyard from the classrooms.
Workers at the Guardian Angel School and Church in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan bring classroom debris to the courtyard from the classrooms.
Mary Plummer/KPCC

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Residents of New York are struggling to get back on their feet after Hurricane Sandy flooded much of the city. Some subway lines are back in service this morning, but the traffic in and out of Manhattan is snarled.

Electricity has been restored to the southwest part of the island but hundreds of thousands of people are still in the dark. Economists say Sandy's price tag in the metropolitan area alone could top $10 bIllion.

For one school in the Chelsea neighborhood of lower Manhattan, damage is so bad it’s hard to know what repairs will cost.

Guardian Angel School, a Catholic pre-K to eighth grade school in lower Manhattan, had its entire basement level wiped out by Hurricane Sandy. Two classrooms, two resource rooms and a cafeteria were completely under water until rescue crews came to the schools aid.

"You hate to see something like this. It’s going to be tough for these kids to get going anywhere in the near future," said Ben Drake, one of the cleanup workers. Drake and his team estimated they have a week to go before the building is cleaned up enough to rebuild. Damages to the school are still being assessed, but numbers will likely range in the tens of thousands.

Guardian Angel School was also hit by Hurricane Irene in August of 2011. Justin Kaufman, the senior project manager for the school’s clean up, said that all of the items wrecked by Sandy were brand new and purchased after Hurricane Irene. Now the school will have to start over again.

“That was bad, but this is another level. You kind of have to see it to believe it,” he said. The basement level of the school was littered with debris and classroom items. Workers faced overturned desks, flipped refrigerators and stacks upon stacks of soaking wet books.

The school’s 28-year principal Maureen McElduff was at the site when the worst of Hurricane Sandy hit lower Manhattan.

"There’s never been a storm like this before,” she said. “It burst through two doors here after it broke the windows. It was just like the movie 'Titanic' as the water was coming after you.”

McElduff hopes she can reopen her school on Monday using portable classrooms. She’s eager to get the school up and running, as she says many of the school's 200 or so students live in the projects and are stuck at home without power.

For now, the school remains a chaotic scene with no electricity and scattered classroom items littering the entire ground floor. McElduff was dressed in hooded sweatshirt and said she hadn’t showered in days. Her home is located in Breezy Point, the Queens neighborhood that was one of the hardest hit by Sandy.

More than 100 homes were lost in her neighborhood. McElduff said her home is just around the corner from homes that were consumed by flames. Her home has serious flooding damage, but for today her mind was on the school and her students.

“We’ll make do, we have to,” she said.