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Displaced by Sandy, elderly sisters find time to laugh

Miranda Leitsinger / NBC News

Pat McCormick, 63, and her sister, Ginny Danaher, 71, share a laugh Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, while their children empty out the flooded first floor of Danaher's home in Breezy Point. McCormick's basement was also flooded by Superstorm Sandy, and now the sisters -- whose husbands died two days apart -- are hunkering down together to weather life's latest storm.

BREEZY POINT, N.Y. -- They are each other’s “lifelines” and best friends, sisters who have weathered life’s storms together.

Their husbands died two days apart years ago, and now they’ve each been forced out of their homes after Superstorm Sandy triggered widespread flooding and a destructive fire in their Breezy Point community.

Ginny Danaher, 71, and her baby sister Pat McCormick, 63, are putting on a brave face to the challenges ahead, cracking jokes. But they are also coping with the reality of being a “displaced person.” It’s a term they suddenly realized applied to them while listening to an appeal for donations on Saturday by their brother, a Catholic priest. The pair is staying at his church’s rectory in Brooklyn.

“I never thought I’d be called a displaced person, but I am!” Danaher said, making a wide-eyed face.

“I’m displaced and unemployed,” McCormick, whose workplace was also flooded, chimed in.

Her sister laughed and said: “Can’t get any worse.”

The sisters mused about their current situation as their sons emptied out Danaher’s flooded first floor on Sunday. They hauled out her white wicker dresser, her bed and a few bottles of white wine gone bad -- which the sisters said in jest maybe they should go ahead and just drink.

“We’re living out of bags,” said McCormick, the youngest of four (their oldest sibling, a brother, died a couple of years ago). “It’s like you don’t have your own definites. You’re still displaced.”

The pair reminisced about a plant given to Danaher’s husband by one of his granddaughters that had survived through the years, and on this Sunday bore a red blossom. They also recalled a family trip to Ireland in August 2011, with Danaher kissing a photo album that had survived the floodwaters.

“You see how good God is, like, I have ... fantastic, fantastic memories,” she said. “When I’m looking at this stuff and I’m getting sentimental, everything is really in your heart, isn’t it? … The pictures that you have, I mean, I have tons of them, you know when the last time I really looked at them?”

As they stood on Danaher’s deck and talked about fun moments, such as going to the weekly “Golden Age” gathering for seniors here, they at times finished each other’s thoughts, spoke over one another or said the same sentences simultaneously. Their decades here have been full of family gatherings, children (they have three each) taking the Catholic sacraments, and grandchildren (they have 15 combined and a sign at Danaher’s house reads, “Welcome to Nana’s”).

When Sandy blew through here two weeks ago, it helped spark a fire that destroyed more than 100 homes and set off flooding that is believed to have damaged the other 2,100 houses. McCormick’s basement was flooded, while the water rose several feet inside Danaher’s home. The sisters waved to neighbors passing by and waxed nostalgic about their tight-knit community, which was founded by Irish immigrants more than a century ago. 

“The thing I love best about here: I live by myself. I’m a widow and let me tell ya, I’m never alone,” Danaher said.

“No, you never feel alone,” McCormick, whose house is a few blocks away, quickly added.

The private community, run by a cooperative, has some roads but also is made up of many “sand lanes” or paths, as well as tiny concrete walkways with homes or bungalows tucked in, side by side. Normally “you don’t get home for two hours because you’re chatting with everybody” along the way, said McCormick.

The summers are magical, Danaher said.

“You have to get cheese fries in the Sugar Bowl (a popular beachfront bar) and an ice cold beer,” she said. “And the minute you walk in everybody knows you, and you’re hugging each other. … It’s a small town.” 

They have traded in that small town for Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge, which some in the community refer to as the “old neighborhood.” It’s bigger, faster-paced. Danaher laughed about dealing with the cars flying by on a busy avenue and getting lost in the rectory at St. Patrick’s church.

“I had to go look for her this (Sunday) morning,” McCormick quipped. “There she is standing there, I said, ‘This way!’”

They are not sure of their next move, though McCormick said: “We’ll stay together somewhere until we get back here.”

And Danaher jokingly declared: “We’re going to get a little apartment and be single girls!”

Their children said the pair seemed to be holding up, given the circumstances.

“They do everything together,” Katherine Delmar, McCormick's daughter, said through tears, noting that she was terribly worried about her mom in the storm’s aftermath. “They go out to dinner together, you know, go shopping together. … They have each other, which is great.”

But they do have their emotional moments, and on Sunday, Danaher asked her sons a few times if they needed to throw one item or another out. “They are just kind of coming to terms with it, you know, realizing that they are not going to be back here for a long time,” Delmar, 34, said.

As they left Breezy Point on Sunday, a reporter asked them about their bond.

“Lifelines, best friends, what else are we, sisters?” Danaher deadpanned with a cackle.

“We get along well and we’ll get through this together,” McCormick said.

“Oh yes, honey, we will,” Danaher added. “We’ve been through a lot together.”

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