STATEN ISLAND, New York (Reuters) - Six days after Sandy battered Staten Island’s coast, some people are realizing that the massive storm’s 20-foot (6-metre) waves and 14-foot (4.2-metre) surge changed the landscape of their lives for good.
For many residents of this hard-hit area, Saturday was the new normal: another day consumed by the arduous task of cleaning up the damage left behind, and planning for a way to stay warm come nightfall.
In the Midland Beach, South Beach and New Dorp neighborhoods, residents piled belongings high at the ends of their driveways, stacking water-logged furniture and ruined dishwashers alongside mud-soaked clothing, broken glass and piles of insulation pulled out of their flooded basements.
George Harrison, 39, waited for a Federal Emergency Management Agency inspector to come to his home on Grimsby Street, five blocks in from Father Capodanno Boulevard, a stretch of road that runs flush with the ocean’s shore, where houses stood boarded up. A five-foot (1.5-meter) wall of water that was powerful enough to force his garage door open left Harrison’s house in shambles.
He and his wife, Eileen, had masks hanging around their necks that they had used to shield them from the stench of raw sewage when they entered their house.
“Everything can be replaced,” he said. “My family’s safe, that’s all that matters.”
Others were not so lucky. A few blocks away on the same street, some elderly neighbors who chose to ride out the storm were found dead, Harrison said. In all, at least 20 Staten Island residents have died from Sandy, roughly half the total for the city.
Late Saturday afternoon, people took debris and started burning it to keep warm as temperatures dropped.
On the corner of Grimsby and Greely, Tim McIntyre, the pastor of Oasis Christian Center, an evangelical church, set up a mini-refugee camp.
McIntyre, standing on the church’s stoop in front of stacks of bottled water announced to people that they had enough donations and that people were now free to come and take supplies only. Women searched through black plastic garbage bags of clothing pulling out children’s coats as temperatures were expected to drop below freezing on Saturday night.
Harrison said McIntyre saved several lives on Monday night when he realized the water was approaching and rushed down the street, yelling at people to flee.
Despite the persistent power outages, there was evidence that the recovery was slowly proceeding. Residents set up folding tables and handed out canned goods and clothing; others walked down the street carrying brooms, shovels, pails and wearing masks to cover their noses and mouths from inhaling the stench of wreckage.
At the Midland Motel, volunteers gave out food next to a sign reading, “Occupy Sandy, Mutual Aid.”
Building inspectors were making the rounds and posting stickers on front doors: a yellow sign indicated that parts of the home were water-damaged and shouldn’t be occupied. Red ones meant home unsafe for habitation, green sticker inspected and passed.
Lisa Hacker’s house, which faces the ocean on Father Capodanno Boulevard, had a yellow sticker on it. She was cleaning out her house with her husband, her father and the help of volunteers. Hacker chose to ride out the storm as water broke through the back door and filled her basement.
“It was like a scene out of the Titanic,” she said, describing the sound of floating cars colliding outside. “Water pushed the back door open in the basement and broke it off the hinges and it started coming in and the lights were flickering.”
Eileen Harrison, George’s wife, said her family will stay with her mother in Brooklyn. They have three children, ages 13, 9 and 4. They will search for an apartment once they get federal funding.
“My kids just want to go home and get their stuff,” she said, starting to break down. “What do I tell them? It’s the most awful feeling in the world. There’s nothing like not being able to lie in your own bed.”
Editing by Dan Burns and Doina Chiacu