Cops ID Rockaway woman who died during Sandy

Two cats meander out of the yard of Santina Reilly's Rockaway home. Photo by Christina Santucci
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She was the cat lady of Beach 87th Street, her next door neighbor said.

And a month after 84-year-old Santina Reilly died during Hurricane Sandy, several strays still roamed in her yard, scavenging for food.

Police identified Reilly as one of 11 people to lose their lives in Queens during the hurricane. According to the NYPD, officers responded to her home at about 2:30 p.m. the day after the storm and found the elderly woman unconscious and unresponsive.

Her next-door neighbor, who asked only to be identified as Adam, said she lived alone in the two-story Rockaway home but slept in the front room on the ground floor because she had difficulty walking and was unable to make it upstairs.

“She was an Italian lady from the old school,” Adam said, describing Reilly as speaking with a thick accent.

When he moved in about 10 years ago, she was already living on the block. Recently she used a walker, but years ago she would walk the neighborhood constantly to exercise.

At one time, Reilly had been married and Adam believed she had children, but other than that the woman was much of a mystery to him and several other neighbors.

“Nothing negative to say,” he said. “She was a good, good lady.”

On the night of the storm, Adam said he could hear Reilly yelling for assistance but by that time, the storm surge had filled the street with rushing water.

“She was screaming, ‘Help, help, help,’ but no one could get to her house because the water was 4 feet high and it was a river,” he said, explaining that another neighbor went to check on her the next day.

“It’s a sad story,” Adam said, pointing to an empty plate for cat food in the yard. “She really had no one to take care of her.”

A spokeswoman for Denis S. O’Connor Funeral Home confirmed that a service for Reilly had been held last week.

Reilly’s death keeps the borough’s death toll at 11, with nine of those in the Rockaways. Police also identified a 72-year-old man who was found dead in a bedroom as David Gotthelf in Rockaway Beach.

A Howard Beach woman, who had previously been on the list and who police identified as 85-year-old Rose Faggiano, was taken out of the tally. A spokeswoman for the city medical examiner said Monday that the death of a woman, who the office identified as Rose Tanzi and had been found at the same address as that given for Faggiano, had been ruled natural.

The spokeswoman said the woman had died from an aortic dissection and rupture and suffered from high blood pressure and heart disease.

Faggiano’s neighbor, Annette Albanese, said residents of the Old Howard Beach block had concluded her death had been because of the storm and said the woman did not appear sick.

“We all assumed that because the water was so high she was screaming out her window, that she had drowned,” Albanese said.

Reach photo editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4589.

Posted 1:16 am, December 6, 2012
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