Surviving Hurricane Sandy: The Island That New York City Forgot

While attention has been focused on other parts of the city, Staten Island—the second largest borough in terms of geographical size—continues to reel from the effects of the storm.

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Paul Moakley for TIME

A flooded section of Hylan Boulevard, one of the main streets on the south shore of Staten Island, New York, on Nov. 2, 2012.

Staten Island has always been the forgotten borough of New York City. I’ve lived here all my life, and after Hurricane Sandy, the island is feeling as neglected as ever. You can’t escape the devastation here. My family came through relatively unscathed — though they are mostly huddled in my brother’s house. But they, like all other residents of the island, were witness to the terrifying power of the storm.

The first floor of my mother’s house was destroyed and now reeks of mildew. The tenant there is living upstairs on my mom’s floor, with no power or heat. In the Great Kills area of the island is my Aunt Barbara’s house. And on the street where she lives is now an entire marina of boats. Large luxury fishing boats have crushed into houses and block intersections. Aunt Barbara and her family are living on a generator but are running out of gas. On Halloween night, her son Fred was almost arrested for siphoning gas from a huge boat on their street. My brother and I drove to Woodbridge, N.J., and waited almost three hours in line to buy gas for them.

(PHOTOS: In the Eye of the Storm: Capturing Sandy’s Wrath)

The headline of Thursday’s Staten Island Advance screamed in bold “14 DEAD SO FAR — HOMES RAVAGED, LIVES RUINED.” But many people here feel no one is listening to their pleas for help or coming for support. Only after one horrific tale emerged did the rest of the city and country pay attention to Staten Island. That event took place in one of the most devastated areas on the island, along Father Capodanno Boulevard. There, a young mother named Glenda Moore tried to reach a shelter and lost her two sons, Brandon, 2, and Connor, 4, after their car stalled in the suddenly rising floodwaters and they tried to escape.

Many residents live just off the water. And as you travel along south, the evidence of destruction just grows and grows. Piles of furniture and garbage are stacked in front of countless homes. Many residents in the town of South Beach off Father Capodanno Boulevard can’t go back into their houses until they see a yellow sticker from the Building Department on their door letting them know the building is safe. Many are clearly unsafe — in fact, uninhabitable and stickered in red to indicate they have been condemned. The area is pockmarked with collapsed homes.

(VIDEO: After Sandy, Returning to Ruins in Breezy Point)

Aly Mahgoub was in his South Beach house during the storm. “I ran to the garage to grab some stuff, and in a matter of minutes the water was up to my knees,” he recalls of the Oct. 29 surge. “I brought all the kids to the third floor, and in about an hour and a half the water was past the first floor. I had a Chevy Tahoe and it was smacking into the house and it went through the garage. The waves were hitting my house. It felt like I was in the middle of the ocean. It made it up to the second floor of my house.”

Late on Nov. 1, Lorenzo Ameno, a lawyer, was pumping the water out of his basement — which meant he was lucky enough to have a generator to power the pump. “We evacuated when we saw the water rising and thought it best just to leave,” Ameno says. He returned to find a Mercury Mountaineer jammed between the walls of his house and his neighbor’s home. A Dodge Ram had floated into the side of his house. He said, “I’ve tried contacting FEMA, and there has been no response. I don’t even think FEMA has showed up in South Beach. We’re all neighbors and waiting and nobody has showed up. Only National Grid [the gas company] to shut off the gas and Con Ed to shut the electric.”

“I have homeowner’s insurance, and I tried to call my agent today, and I just can’t get through,” says the frustrated lawyer. “President Obama promised a swift recovery, and we are on Father Capodanno and there is nothing here. There are no services; there are no police, no Red Cross [in the neighborhood]. There’s nothing. It’s just devastating on top of devastating.” He adds, “I really do believe that Staten Island is the forgotten borough … There should really be newscasters here showing the devastation on Father Capodanno and nobody helping us.”

“The mayor here doesn’t want to come and they are pulling bodies out left and right,”  says Michael Harven, who lives with Ida Vernat and their 11-year-old daughter in an area called Ocean Breeze. They all escaped — along with their small terrier — just when the floodwaters began to rise.  “When we came out and saw the water coming across the street, we left,” says Harven. “The water rose to about 10 feet high in the area, so people were trapped.” He and Vernat found out today that their house had a yellow sticker, which means that though it is damaged, they can return to live in it. Still, says Vernat, “My daughter doesn’t want to come back and see this. She’s scared.”

(VIDEO: TIME Explains: Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change)

Only a few houses away from Vernat and Harven’s home, searchers found the body of an elderly woman. Peeking through a shattered bay window of the home where she was discovered, I saw a green oxygen tank. In the small living room, all her furniture had been tossed about by the flood. Her neighbors say her cat survived.

Near the corner of Father Capodanno and Midland Avenue is a gigantic emergency command center. Harven says it isn’t very organized. When he went in to ask about his home on Nov. 1, he says, “The Office of Emergency Management didn’t know the Building Department was here. FEMA said they were too busy getting set up. No one is communicating, even the city. Half this community wants to leave. They don’t want to ever come back.”

Driving into the Midland Beach neighborhood right after sunset requires going through an obstacle course of debris and random streets filled with stagnant floodwater. At the Hess station on New Dorp Lane, there’s a line of cars about a mile long. In the pitch black of Cedar Grove Avenue, Lucille Mack, who works at Showplace bowling alley, is serving pizza on the hood of a car. “We want to help give people something for their stomachs at least,” she explains. One resident who was eating out on the street told me that he and his wife took refuge in the attic of their one-story home, even as the entire facade of the house fell off and the next-door neighbors’ home completely collapsed.

Across the street, a Red Cross mobile unit was handing out supplies and volunteers were organizing things at an impromptu donation center in the dark. One volunteer said, “Nothing from FEMA yet, no Con Edison trucks, we haven’t had any inspections. The cops came by and made sure people were alive, but nothing has been inspected that I know of.”

On my way home I notice another mile-long line for gas at another Hess Station, close to where a giant water tanker washed up on land. I take a photo of the line for gas. A cop keeping the line orderly says, “Come back in 20 minutes when they run out and you’ll really see a riot.” He may have been joking, but Staten Islanders are struggling, and many are beginning to lose patience. We are tired of being forgotten.

PHOTOS: Staten Island — Christine Osinski’s Unseen Photographs of New York City’s Forgotten Borough

78 comments
LoFranco
LoFranco

My Aunt is on Staten Island - her home was not flooded but I question how long before she runs out of food. I'm in California, even if I try to send her a care package how will it get through the post office given the devastation in the entire area? 

@TommyRoff, you're an idiot.

TommyRoff
TommyRoff

Q: Why are thousands of liberal dogma spawn just standing around crying HELP?    Why are they so adverse to picking up a bucket mop or hammer?

ANY ideas?

TommyRoff
TommyRoff

Hey New Yorkers - CALM DOWN! .....The Messiah is sending you windmills and solar panels TODAY!!

BML
BML

Excellent story. My thoughts and prayers will be with all of you in Staten Island and all of those who have suffered so much loss. 

TerrySalter
TerrySalter

Exclusive: Security officials on the ground in Libya challenge CIA accountBoth American and British sources said, at the very least, the security situation on the ground and the lack of proper response were the result of "complete incompetence."

jcp370
jcp370

My thoughts & prayers are with all you who have suffered such horrific losses. New Yorkers have been tested time & again and I know that you are a resilient people. Your fellow Americans support you, we are donating & keeping you in our prayers & hope for a speedy return to normal.

LusoGirl7
LusoGirl7

I am from the NY region, not too far from hard hit LI South Shore and I feel for the people that have lost their homes and livelihoods and loved ones. But, god forgive me for saying this, but what I have witnessed in the aftermath -- people whining and looting -- has left me disheartened. I am not callous or oblivious to their plight, the Staten Islanders who have lost everything.....however, if we look back to the Japanese Tsunami 2 years ago, the death toll surpassed 16,000 and picture after picture and video after video all we heard form reporters and saw from footage were the dignity of the Japanese and you did not hear them complaining. They bore an even harsher reality with quiet fortitude. I wish those who were whining bore their circumstance with the same dignity. Some (not all) have complained that help was not on it's way, yet FEMA and the Red Cross and good samaritans from our area were on the ground helping out -- a far cry from what we saw in Katrina and it's devastation and the unwillingness of the authorities (the inept Michael Brown comes to mind) to be as quick to provide resources. I'm not trying to make light or make less of what's happened to my fellow NYers, I just wish that some would find reason and show their humanity during such a time. For example, is there really any need for looting in destroyed areas when your neighbor has lost everything already?! Or someone wielding a gun or fights breaking out at a gas station because of people's frustation at the lack of gas to power their generators and cars when your neighbor's town over doesn't have a generator or car to power because it's floated away/been pounded or decimated?! Or is there any need to complain that you don't have your electricity back on so quickly given all the resources in this day and age -- this statement came from a resident in Old Brookville -- a town that is already richly-abundant and overflowing in resources to begin with?! Remember those in Japan and those in New Orleans before you display nonsensical thinking, or even worse: your inhumanity.

sxh14264
sxh14264

When IKE hit Houston we had over 300 dead and were without power for 3 wks. Funny, I dont recall the whining to the media. Funny, I had food and water in the pantry. Cooked on the BBQ grill. Evacuated to OKLA because we were told to. ORDERLY Evacuation. Those killed mostly were those who did not evac. We had whole neighborhoods wiped clean down to the slab. WE had prepared, after Allison, many hosptials etc moved all emergency generators to higher floors. While Bloob-berg has been addressing soda size, smoking and trans fats, he should have been disaster hardening his city. NYC elected and re-elected him. Happy now?

manrolta
manrolta

Hi people, is hard to read this, but is also magic the way is written. It's like poetry. From Medellín - Colombia, I wish you all get ok soon. Blessings!

BabaBooey
BabaBooey

We stayed not because we are stupid tc, but for the reasons that we went on, on what info we had. That is, from history. Hurricane Irene last year was not that bad, the one prior warning in 1999 was nothing. Since then we had Noreasters that brought up water, but not that much. And we are far north, so hurricanes usually weaken by the time they get to us. Heck, we've had countless blizzards here with worse winds than Sandy gave us but the seawater never came up. Sandy just churned and churned out there in the darkness and we couldnt even see it whip up the ocean the way it did. Caught us off guard really. The water was SILENT at first too. Water starts trickling in your door and youre like, wtf?, what's this? At first I thought I had spilled this jug. And you look out and go oh my God!!! Then youre grabbing shit and your mind is racing cause you dont know how long you have. Did you also know that we were lucky to have gotten one inch of rain on SI during Sandy? Bet you did not. So it made perfect sense not to really to have seen the worst coming. Other problems with prior evacuation include lack of info on where to go, and if there was adequate room for people---obviously not. So what I think you are asking is prior evac. People did evacuate when there was knowledge of seawater. Hope this makes sense. The Mayor has canceled the NYC Marathon. Good move. The course would have taken the Blvd where a woman's children were ripped from her by seawater, Father vCappadono Blvd. (Chaplain killed in Viet Nam). Not only out of respect for the dead. Which I think could be as many as 200. But I doubt the official count would ever be that high.

tcspeaks
tcspeaks

Why did you not evacuate?  Why did you stay?  It makes no sense.  

KristinaFloyd-Lopez
KristinaFloyd-Lopez

I don't understand why the gas and electric companies don't turn of there resourses before a storm hits. Wouldn't it make sense, that way a falling powerline wouldn't hurt anyone. I can make a list a mile long. Everyone knows you are going to be without power that is why you have generators, flashlights, candles, and/or lanterns.

BabaBooey
BabaBooey

I havent seen so much as a crumb of support here but I dont care. Living out of one suit of clothes, cold. Spent 1st night huddled under a wet blanket trying to stay warm, hearing the deafening roar of the ocean wreaking its havoc on South Beach.  They should cancel the NYC Marathon out of respect for the dead, which we wont be told the truth about I am sure. So much is covered up here on a routine basis. And Mayor Bloomberg said in his first press conference that people pay extra to live by the water and they want access, so they dont want bulkheads. A bald-faced lie!!! People on the south shore of SI have been screaming for years to refurbish the bulkheads decimated in past storms. But instead NYC Parks wants to pave the parklands with parking lots and SUV-friendly trails so cops can drive through the woods so no one can can any peace, and put in astro-turf playing fields where woods once were, that get wrecked by the first storm. Joke. Now it seems like another case of well, life goes on, and it was just Staten Island so it doesnt matter . No, life doesnt go on immediately, Manhattan-style. We are all NYC. Rudy would've canceled it. Show some respect, the real DOA count will be 200.

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Psalm 9:10And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

We were actually lucky on this one. If you want to se what can REALLY go wrong... look up a piece of history that I heard about as a kid. Google The 1935 FLORIDA HURRICANE. A real eye opener.

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

Absolutely. I'm an old man now. I have lived through 6 hurricanes and 1 tornado. This is NOT a video game. If you are in  a coastal area, that is anywhere within 10 miles of a beach and if people say there is a hurricane coming through, you are putting yourselves in jeopardy if you do not EVACUATE. I don't care what your neighbor says. Everyone in such a zone should have emergency supplies and an escaper route they can take 3 DAYS before a storm hits. If you wait until the last moment, you can easily be lulled to death by the immense calm before a huge storm. then when you want to go, all the roads are packed and escape routes are nil. That is exactly what happened to all these people. They felt comfortable, safe and we, sadly enough mistaken. They were complacent and lazy. Now, they are pissed and want to blame someone. When you are told to evacuate because of a hurricane, do so. Always.

Toes
Toes

With all the republicans on the Island, I say let them sort it out themselves. Any support would be socialism after all.

Jenkins054
Jenkins054

The people in this country have totally unrealistic expectations when it comes to disaster relief.  In ANY disaster it is going to be a minimum of 72 hrs before any significant relief is on the ground. That is just a fact of life. FEMA is prevented by law to bypass local govt., don't like it change the law. When told to evacuate do it! Think about helping yourself and doing a little self preparedness before an event. How many homes have any emergency plans. If you don't have 3-4 days of supplies like canned goods etc shame on you. FEMA and other response agencies can't get to you for the same reason you can't get out. A casual check of various sites would show that many resources  were pre positioned out of the impacted area, I hope the reason is obvious.

So the bottom line here is, show some self reliance and personal responsibility. Disaster response is a local  responsibilty the Feds can't come in until they are invited. So ask your mayors etc what they did to prepare their community and don't put up with their blaming everyone else. 

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

I Changed my mind. Frankly, I just saw some dingbat on CNN talking about 'how hard she trained for the marathon and whining. Heartless.. She was so self-absorbed and selfish. Screw the Marathon. They should all fly in and spend two days helping clean up Staten Island. 

PalTerner
PalTerner

I just feel so bad for those people on Staten Island --someone needs to help them. Five miles from New York City, and they are isolated.

 You would think this was a third world country 

martinaabell66
martinaabell66

we mobilized and helped a nearby town devastated by tornados this past Spring.  Sandy is so widespread, but why is there not help for these people?

martinaabell66
martinaabell66

I have no idea why FEMA and the Red Cross were not nearby to assist or even there prior to the storm to help with evacuation. there are people who do not have resources.  In this country, this should not happen!

PalTerner
PalTerner

FEMA knew this storm was going to cause huge damage.  Wonder why they didn't preposition  their centers in advance of the storm as they have done in other hurricane situations.  Here they are days after the storm floundering around trying to get set up.Sounds like Hurricane Andrew disaster during which FEMA incompetence caused elder Pres Bush to loose the election.

Obama makes eloquent promises but he just can't seem to ever deliver on those promises.

MikeBirman
MikeBirman

@sxh14264 

Few New Yorkers are complaining and it is unfortunate that you wish our city ill during a time of crisis. This isn't a game of one-upmanship, of who had the more devastating storm and the better reaction. This is a common American tragedy and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, these storms will be more frequent in the future. We either pull together with compassion and intelligence or face the consequences.

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@BabaBooey AKA, you weren't willing to be prepared or to evacuate.  It NEVER makes sense to take a hurricane for granted.

LoFranco
LoFranco

@tcspeaks Because people in their 70's and 80's and 90's or even younger, have no where to go.

LoFranco
LoFranco

@KristinaFloyd-Lopez they don't turn them off so that hospitals and rescue team can continue house those who can not be evacuated.

KristinaFloyd-Lopez
KristinaFloyd-Lopez

This was not an answer my question....I believe it would be easier to restore power. If you have to many surges, live power lines (on top of houses and on roads) and explosions there is more to repair. They are over 6 million meters out of power!!!! The ones medically in need of power should have gone to the shelters. The had a four day warning of the possibility of a major storm. There is emergancy crews before storms that will help assist people to get to shelters. I have been without power with a hurricane for over a week, but I expected it. I do not have a generator, since I live in Florida when it got dark it was bed time. Your suppose to have non perishable food for seven days and water (one gallon per person per day) for five days. Plus the hospital that had to evacuate during the storm because of generator failure would of found out before the storm, there for the would have been more assistance at moving the patient to a safer location.

nicmart
nicmart

@KristinaFloyd-Lopez

Right, they should leave everyone without heat, light, refrigeration, and let those using medical devices requiring electricity just die. Sort of preventive eugenics.

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@BabaBooey I sympathize with your for your current living conditions.  They are not easy, but you did have the choice to evacuate before the storm hit.  Had you done so, you wouldn't have been subjected to a hurricane and to the damage that it caused.

"and it was just Staten Island so it doesn't matter"  It's not that it was just Staten (and Long) Island.  It's that these are barrier islands, places whose function is to protect the mainland from vicious storms.  They ARE bulkheads.  This is why such islands (that includes Galveston Island should NEVER be developed areas.

Oh, and the NYC marathon has been cancelled.  Many of the runners (and their team members) who had already arrived for the race are now volunteers working alongside other volunteers, government agencies and first responders in cleaning up and helping the victims.

LenSimpson
LenSimpson

@nuvolari001 spent my 1st 40 years in Miami, starting w/1935.  The hurricane bldg code worked.

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

@PalTerner Baloney. FEMA arrived there yesterday, but the roads were impassable to cars. FEMA are back today with the Guard and NYPD, as is Red Cross and USAF airlifted 300 California Edison power line trucks and full crews. The NAVY is sending 3 carriers. What more do you want? It's not a video game. It twill take a few more days too get power restored. Transformers are not that easy to put back online, when there is 3 feet of water in the plant, then they have to be reset and tested.

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@martinaabell66 Have you seen the photos from Staten Island.  I don't mean the ones of the streets or of destroyed building?.  Have you seen the photos of the shoreline?  You know, the ones that are are just about covered by boats that were thrown there by the storm.  THAT'S why there hasn't yet been type of help that that island needs.  It can't get onto the island.

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

@martinaabell66 WRONG. FEMA had already staged and had emergency vehicles and crews ready across the region. Theey are in place, but they travel in CARS and SUVS. You cannot get into the flooded areas in cars. So, they have to travel with the National Guard in Trucks. In many places, it's accessible only by BIG military trucks.

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

@PalTerner They were in place a week before the storm. See above. FEMA does the disaster coordination and Federal insurance side.  Red Cross does the food, water and medical. State and county Law Enforcement do the actual evacuation. Remember, Media only go to the absolute WORST areas, because they need the eyeballs for advertisers. .If it bleeds it leads. Power is going back on. This is only 96 hours with 60 million people affected. Compare that to NOLA, where it took months in some cases to even clear the streets.

EstaNoche
EstaNoche

@PalTerner   I'd like to point out that I am not an Obamite... and I never vote for either of the two major parties.That being said... WTH are you babbling about?  There WAS FEMA propositioning in the storm.  As for the "not delivering" in the hurricane, I've seen more being done about THIS one than the one back in 05, if you get my drift.  If you're going to use tragedy that members of BOTH parties are suffering to masturbate your political opinions, at least get your facts straight.

aa23
aa23

@PalTerner it wouldn't have help if those mobile centers got swept away as well. then what's left to set up? ..maybe they should have just evacuated

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@KristinaFloyd-Lopez I pretty much agree.  However, turning off he utilities before the storm hit wouldn't do a thing to keep any utility from damage.  That damage is done by wind and water, which combine to knock down trees and utility poles, ripping down wires in doing so and churning up roads and sewers and underground utility corridors.  It doesn't matter which utility is being discussed, because the damage will happen no matter what.  And even the explosions that occurred did not necessarily do so because live power lines fell to spark them.

JapaneseTeacher
JapaneseTeacher

@Toes Prove it. Please find me one Republican statement that endorses people not getting disaster relief. NOW is when you want to try to score political points?

nogreaterfriend
nogreaterfriend

So the Navy is sending 3 carriers, eh?  Interesting.

PalTerner
PalTerner

@EstaNoche @PalTerner  Yes, Esta, the Bush administration did get well-deserved criticism for FEMA's performance with Katrina.  However, the Bush administration also was roundly smeared by Democrats "masturbating(?) their political position" by never ever mentioning that the Democrat governor and mayor waited to the very last minute to order the evacuation of a city 14 feet below sea level with a Cat 5 hurricane churning in the Gulf .  And, the governor also refused to allow Bush to send troups --until the following day when New Orleans was flooded and rescuers were being shot at by snipers.

My point is FEMA should have this down pat by now --but evidently they don't.

PalTerner
PalTerner

@aa23 @PalTerner Duh..........they put them where they wont get swept away but near enough so they can roll everthing out immediately after the storm.  Here we are days and days later, and they're just floundering around --and really not even present on the scene to any extent.

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@JapaneseTeacher Romney is on record as wanting to kill FEMA and every other agency that can help in a disaster.  As far as he, and the party are concerned, relief should only come from state and local resources, resources that simply are not available in the immediate aftermath of any disaster.  Proof enough?

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@PalTerner @aa23 Advance provisions to access Staten Island, when the only way to get stuff onto the island is by water, and the shores of the island ar covered with boats that broken off their moorings and thrown there by the storm.

If the mayor of Hoboken had to beg on TV for the Guard, then it's because s/he didn't ask Chris Christie to send them to his/her city.  And I don't see Christie ignoring any part of this.  Besides, unless a unit is activated to fight in a war, it's only governors, not mayors, who can activate the NG.

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

@PalTerner @aa23 You do realize that this storm was not a midwest twister, but a storm that was 800 ... EIGHT HUNDRED MILES WIDE. EH?

nuvolari001
nuvolari001

@aa23 @PalTerner Absoultely, FEMA and the Guard all did what they were supposed to do and put their resources OUTSIDE the impact zone. Hello. 

aa23
aa23

@PalTerner @aa23 are you serious? should they have gotten the hovercrafts and teleport machines ready to go?

national guard was already on their way. mayor begging had no bearing on their arrival.

energize...

PalTerner
PalTerner

@aa23 @PalTerner  

People who should have evacuated certainly have no excuse to whine.  But not all were ordered to evacuate from Staten Island.

FEMA should have made advance provisions to access Staten Island after the storm by preposiitoning military amphibious vehicles --it appears they just didn't plan any measures for Staten Island.

And really, if they were prepositioned anywhere in the area, it's certainly not evident.  The Hoboken mayor had to beg on TV to finally get the National Guard to come in there.

aa23
aa23

@PalTerner @aa23 FEMA put all the equipment outside the path of the storm - simple risk mitigation. the equipment is rolled out to the areas that were accessible. SI was not immediately accessible. they were able to get there today and you can see they're all there. it just took a while.  like i said...they wouldn't be whining if they evacuated like they were suppose to in the first place. 


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