Apex, N.C. — Tara Navarro lives in Apex, but the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the people in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., hits close to home.
A teacher at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic School in Apex, Navarro is tied to 20 families – including those of aunts, uncles and cousins – in the area whose homes were either damaged or destroyed three weeks ago when the Category 1 storm hit the Northeast.
"It's a place where I grew up my whole life, going to the beach," she said. "It's tough being here, with my family all up there."
Her uncle, Gary Tully, was one of the nearly 3,000 homeowners in the area whose life was interrupted by the storm.
His home is still standing, but, at one point, he had more than 8 feet of standing water inside.
He, however, is more worried about what the disaster will mean for the future of his community.
"What's so hard to deal with is the uncertainty of what's going to happen," he said.
Homes in Breezy Point have been handed down from generation to generation and homeowners usually don't have to pay mortgages. That also means that many of the homes likely aren't protected by flood insurance.
Sixty-five percent of residents live there year-round; the rest of the homes are summer cottages.
Tully retired this year and was planning to move to Breezy Point full-time and planned to put his home in New Jersey on the market.
"There's 2,800 homes in the community, and every single home has some degree of damage," he said.
About 100 burned down after floodwaters kept firefighters from fighting a blaze that broke out during the storm.
Hundreds others were swept off their foundations, and whatever structures that were left standing were damaged.
"We have people who are emotionally committed to making a go of it and rebuilding," Tully said. "Then, there's the financial reality of, 'What will their ability to do that be?'"
Back in Apex, students in Navarro's sixth-grade class are doing what they can to help. They have collected more than 300 blankets and more than $5,000 for the victims.
Navarro says the aim, in part, is to show children that it's important to help people whether they're in a local community or far away.
In addition to the fundraisers, an eight-grade class organized and led a special prayer service on Friday for the hurricane victims.
"It's important that everybody comes together as a community and helps people to get better," student Allie Smith said. "A lot of innocent people were hurt."
Students say Navarro's connection to Hurricane Sandy has made the tragedy more real for them.
"Just knowing that you helped somebody, it makes you feel good," student Anthony Burlingame said.
Navarro's relatives have also been moved by the desires of her students to help.
"Incidents and catastrophes, like these, shrink our country dramatically, shrink our world dramatically," Tully said. "It connects young children at a young age to some of the realities to the world we live in."
Navarro is also thankful.
"I'm just overwhelmed by everybody's compassion, by everybody's kindness and generosity," she said.