On Staten Island, cries for help replaced by a loss for words

Thu Nov 1, 2012 6:23pm EDT
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - On Hamden Ave, a storm-wrecked street on New York City's Staten Island, everyone was talking about the surge - a wall of water that came tearing down the street on Monday night.

As families picked through mud-caked photo albums and couch cushions, and stared at ruined cars scattered across the neighborhood, they talked on Thursday about how a little bit of rain suddenly turned into pools of water. Then swelled and kept swelling until the water flooded the first floor of homes.

"We heard this noise and it sounded like a train," said Dawn Rautenstrauch, speaking three days after Sandy, a vicious storm, tore across the East Coast, washing away houses, trees and bridges. "There was a 10-foot wave carrying cars."

The 37-year-old mother of three had been outside smoking a cigarette when the floods came. She had just enough time to grab her children out of a room in the building's basement, where they were watching television, and bring them up to safety on the building's second floor.

"We were listening to people on their roofs screaming for help," said Rautenstrauch, her voice breaking. "And to think we're actually the lucky ones. I don't have nothing, but we're alive."

Staten Island, which lies across New York Harbor from lower Manhattan, is home to about 500,000 residents, many blue-collar workers whose families have lived there for generations.

Few areas were as devastated by the storm in terms of property damage and loss of life; 15 of the 39 New York City residents killed were from Staten Island. The dead included two boys, ages 2 and 4, who were swept from their mother's arms by the floodwaters.


A woman stands alone in water in front of destroyed homes on Cedar Grove Avenue in a neighborhood where many houses were heavily damaged or completely destroyed by storm surge flooding from Hurricane Sandy on the south side of the Staten Island section of New York City, November 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar