In the chaotic days after Superstorm Sandy, an army of aid workers streamed to the flood-ravaged Rockaway Peninsula looking for anyone who needed help. National Guard troops went fromdoor to door. City inspectors checked thousands of dwellings for damage. Seaside neighborhoods teemed with utility crews, Red Cross trucks and teams clearing debris.
But as the months dragged by, nobody thought to look inside the tiny construction trailer rusting away in a junk-filled lot at the corner of Beach 40th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
If they had, they would have found the body of Keith Lancaster, a quiet handyman who appeared to have been using the trailer as a home the night Sandy sent five feet of water churning through the neighborhood.
It took until April 5 before an acquaintance finally went to check on the 62-year-old’s whereabouts and found his partially decomposed remains. His body lay near a calendar that hadn’t been turned since October and prescription pill bottles last refilled in the fall.
New York City’s medical examiner announced this week that Lancaster had drowned, making him the 44th person ruled to have died in New York City because of the storm.
Neighborhood residents described Lancaster as a loner and something of a drifter, and he had never been reported missing. No one stepped forward to claim his body from the city morgue and he was buried in a potter’s field.
But in life, he was well liked by some of the people who saw him sweeping sidewalks around the lot where he sometimes slept.
“When we first moved here, he weeded our entire backyard,” said Gerald Sylvester, 55, a retired transit worker who lives in a small bungalow just feet from the trailer where Lancaster died.
Neighbors said they wondered what happened to Lancaster after the storm hit, but none thought of checking the trailer.