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After The Storm, Staten Islanders Share The Misery

Nov 2, 2012
Originally published on November 5, 2012 1:35 pm

Much of the worst damage from Superstorm Sandy happened in New York's less touristy outer boroughs.

Some neighborhoods have been changed forever by the storm. Staten Island saw half of the city's fatalities. On Friday, residents sorted through waterlogged belongings and tried to figure out next steps.

Rosemarie Caruso lives a block from the water on the eastern shore of Staten Island. She says there have been hurricanes before and all they brought was a little flooding. She figured she could ride out Sandy.

"So we really thought we'd get a little water, [but] it was major, everything blowing, I mean the water had waves in it," she says. "It was like the ocean came up on land."

On Monday night as the water reached their house she and her husband fled. But later that night she came back.

"And that's when I saw all the boats floating in the water, hitting the cars, hitting the houses," she continues. "It was a very scary sight."

On Friday, an enormous boat sat at the end of her street in a restaurant parking lot.

Caruso's house is uninhabitable. There's no power. No heat. She and her husband spent the morning removing waterlogged furniture and clothes and piling them in her yard.

All over Staten Island, mounds of garbage are growing on street corners and in yards.

Julian Larocca hired a crew of day laborers to scrape the mud out of his neighbors' houses. Houses in this part of Staten Island can sell for millions of dollars if they're on the water. Now the ones on the water are the hardest hit.

"Their houses are totally destroyed," he says. "It's not just from the water, but all the residual from the kerosene and diesel fuel from the boats, that's all you smelled the day after on Wednesday."

For those who've lost their homes, the climb back will be a long one. On Hylan Boulevard on Friday, a mobile rescue station was set up where people could get food and water, charge their phones and register for aid with Lisa Barnett of FEMA.

All morning a slow trickle of people came by, including Maria Deery. Her condo down the road was flooded, and she's sleeping on a friend's couch. She says she has plenty of insurance but she's worried about her near-term future.

"What do I do in the meantime; I have to go to work on Monday? Basically I have to go to a friend's house or a relative's house to take a shower," she says, tearfully. "Believe me, there's people in much worse situations, but I guess I need to get something permanent in the near term."

Most people here say the same thing: Other people had it worse. Everyone knows the story about the two Staten Island children swept from their mother's arms to their death as the waters rose.

But there's misery to go around. Bernard Manuel has been sleeping in his wrecked car outside his flooded home. He's heard there are looters breaking into abandoned homes at night. If they show up, he says, he's ready for them.

"Oh then justice will be served," Manuel says, without elaborating. "Justice will be served!"

The man next door shows up to bring Manuel coffee. That's the silver lining behind the worst storm to hit Staten Island in memory: Neighbors are helping neighbors as people everywhere begin to rebuild their lives.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

With New York's marathon canceled, thousands of runners will not be filling the streets of the outer boroughs, the scenes of some of the worst hit areas in the city. For example, Staten Island, where NPR's Jim Zarroli went today.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Rosemarie Caruso lives a block from the water on the eastern shore of Staten Island. She says there have been hurricanes before, and all they brought was a little flooding. So she figured she could ride out Sandy.

ROSEMARIE CARUSO: So we really thought we'd get a little water, but...

ZARROLI: This was different.

CARUSO: It was major. The - everything blowing. The waves, I mean, the water had waves in it. It was like the ocean came up on land.

ZARROLI: On Monday night as the water reached their house, she and her husband fled. But later that evening she came back.

CARUSO: And that's when I saw all the boats floating in the water, hitting the cars, hitting the houses. It was...

ZARROLI: Boats floating, you mean in the street?

CARUSO: The boats were floating up the streets, hitting the houses. It was a very scary sight.

ZARROLI: Today an enormous boat sits at the end of her street in a restaurant parking lot, and Caruso's house is uninhabitable. There's no power and no heat. She and her husband spent the morning removing waterlogged furniture and clothes and piling them up in her yard.

All over Staten Island, mounds of garbage are growing on street corners and in yards. Julian Larocca hired a crew of day laborers to scrape the mud out of his neighbors' houses. Houses in this part of Staten Island can sell for millions of dollars if they're on the water. Now the ones on the water are the hardest hit.

JULIAN LAROCCA: The houses are totally destroyed. It's not just from the water but all the residual from the kerosene and diesel fuel from the boats. That's all you smelled the day after, on Wednesday.

ZARROLI: For those who have lost their homes, the climb back will be a long one. On Highland Boulevard today, a mobile rescue station was set up, where people could get food and water, charge their phones and register for aid with Lisa Barnett of FEMA.

LISA BARNETT: OK, so you've already registered with us?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes.

BARNETT: OK, great.

ZARROLI: All morning, a slow trickle of people came by. They included Maria Deery. Her condo down the road was flooded, and she's sleeping on a friend's couch. She says she has plenty of insurance, but she's worried about her near-term future.

MARIA DEERY: What do I do in the meantime? I have to go to work on Monday. I have no place - basically I have to go to a friend's house or a relative's house to take a shower. I mean, I'm not - believe me, there's people that are in much worse situations, but I guess I need to get, I don't know, something permanent in the near term.

ZARROLI: Talk to most people here, and they say the same thing. Other people had it worse. Everyone knows the story about the two Staten Island children swept from their mother's arms to their death as the waters rose. But there's misery to go around. Bernard Manuel has been sleeping in his wrecked car outside his flooded home. He's heard there are looters breaking into abandoned houses at night, and if they show up, he's ready for them.

BERNARD MANUEL: Oh, then justice will be served.

(LAUGHTER)

MANUEL: Justice will be served.

ZARROLI: What will you do?

MANUEL: Oh, we can't talk about that.

(LAUGHTER)

ZARROLI: The man next door shows up to bring him coffee. That's the silver lining behind the worst storm to hit Staten Island in memory: Neighbors are helping neighbors, as people everywhere begin to rebuild their lives.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.