At the height of Sandy the last words Joseph Filipowicz heard from his twin brother were ‘I’m not leaving Dad’…hours later their bodies were removed from the basement.
- Father and son covered in 12 feet of water seconds after Sandy hit
- Family describes horrifying moment bodies discovered in dark basement
- Son refused to leave his father’s side even though he was warned to evacuate
- Deaths on Staten Island now stand at 19 after superstorm
- Father’s brother was a firefighter during 9/11 but said “nothing compares” to this family loss
A son was found drowned in his father’s arms in the icy waters of Superstorm Sandy after telling relatives: “I’m not leaving dad.”
John Filipowicz, 51, and his son John, 20, were found still hugging in their basement as they sheltered from the torrent that covered them in 12 feet of water in seconds.
Family members said the two had an “incredible bond” and would never have been apart, in life or death.
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Family tragedy: John Filipowicz Sr. and his son, John Filipowicz Jr. (right) were found buried under rubble in the basement of their home.
Tributes left outside the Staten Island, New York, home of John K Filipowicz and his son John C Filipowicz, who drowned in the basement during flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy.
The basement of the house where father and son drowned when the storm hit
Brother and uncle Neil Filipowicz standing outside their Staten Island home
Neil Filipowicz said the watermark was at least three meters high.
‘He was my rock’: Christine Filipowicz hugs a friend outside her house
The eldest John stayed watch over his home in Staten Island, New York, but his son refused to leave because he wanted to be by his side.
The death means that Christine, John the elder’s wife, has lost her husband, and her two other children, Joseph, a twin of John junior, and Cali, 16, have lost a brother and father.
The deaths are among 19 deaths on Staten Island due to Superstorm Sandy, more than any other borough in New York. The total number of deaths in the United States currently stands at 108.
Among the other victims were Connor and Brandon Moore, aged four and two, who were swept away by a giant wave on the east coast of the island of mum Glenda’s arms.
John Jr: Relatives said father and son had a special bond
The Filipowicz family lives on Fox Beach Avenue, one of the hardest hit streets on Staten Island, where another unidentified 51-year-old man died.
Neil Filipowicz, 46, John’s brother, told MailOnline that his brother decided to ignore warnings to evacuate after Hurricane Irene last year and a storm in 1992.
The family went today to inspect the devastating place where their loved ones had been murdered.
He said: ‘I spoke to Joseph and he told me that he tried to get him to leave that day. He was on the phone and was telling John (the son) to get out of the house. He told her: ‘I’m not going to leave dad.’
‘There was no way he was going to leave his father at home. It was a bond like it’s supposed to be with your children, between a son and a father. They loved each other very much. “They had an incredible bond.”
Neil, a retired New York City firefighter who served on 9/11, said the family became concerned when they couldn’t locate either father or son during Monday night’s storm.
Neil went home the next day at 7.30am, took a look around the house and noticed that his brother’s keys and wallet were on the table, but there was no sign of them.
Neil, Christine and other family members scoured local shelters, and when they found nothing, Neil returned home alone.
Neil said: ‘I crawled through a hole in the wall that the water had made. I shined my flashlight from right to left and then I saw a hand, to my left.
“I was praying it was a doll’s hand, but I put my hand in the water, grabbed it, and my nephew appeared.
“My brother also approached, he had his arm around the back of his neck, protecting him.
Son John (left) refused to leave his father’s side.
John Filipowicz Jr (back, right) pictured here with family two years ago
Twin brothers: Joseph (right) urged John to leave the house, but John jr responded: “I’m not leaving dad.”
‘I was pulling them both at the same time, by their shirts, and a neighbor came and helped me take them off and we put them on the side of the house until they were taken away by the National Guard and the Medical Examiner.
‘My nephew was holding my brother and my brother was holding him to his chest as if they knew they were dying.
‘My brother was protecting him. Their eyes were open. My brother seemed intense, like he was still trying to fight to the end and be the father and protect his son. My nephew was very scared.
“The water line on this was 10 feet high, but I think it must have been much higher.”
Neil said the two men were in the basement because they were “checking things out”; others on the street narrowly escaped when they did the exact same thing.
Neil said: ‘I know my brother had some sandbags outside, he had used some expanding foam on the back door. No water passed through it.
‘All the foam had to be cut, he was probably checking it and maybe heard a crack in the structure, but once that gave way, the rush of water, that pressure.
Some of the concrete blocks are on the other side of the basement. To be pushed like this, they fired like cannons.’
Fighting back tears, Neil said he had been on duty as a New York City firefighter on 9/11, but “nothing compares to this because of the closeness.”
The neighbors knew the eldest John as the “mayor” of the street because he took care of them all by helping to clear the snow from the street in the winter.
John Jr photographed with a friend
They, in turn, referred to him by the family nickname, “Flip.” Paying tribute to his brother, Neil said: “My brother was all family. Even our friends were considered family, it was like an extended family.
‘I was a United States Marine after finishing high school. He served in Greneda, then worked in the New York City Department of Corrections and from there he retired and worked for the Concrete Laborers Union for a time.
‘He was a great family man, he loved his wife and children immensely. For the past few years he drove a school bus.
‘He was a football coach and a basketball coach. He also coached the school’s baseball coach and attended church; he was a regular at St. Charles Catholic Church. Neil described John, the son, as a “prince” who would do “anything for anyone.”
He said: ‘He was the heir of his father. He did everything right. He was never in trouble, he did everything right. He was dedicated to his girlfriend. He went to college and took the Fire Department exam, he was trying to better himself and thinking about becoming a nurse.
Speaking to MailOnline outside her home, Christine wiped away tears and said she had not fully accepted what had happened to her family.
She said: ‘I’m just being strong for my children. It’s a shock, I’m in and out. I’m just trying to stay calm. I have a very good family. ‘John meant everything to me.
‘He was my rock. He was my rock. He was a family man and my poor son was only 20.’