Staten Island residents say Hurricane Sandy relief effort 'forgot' victims in their borough
Outrage at response
By KATE KOWSH, JOE TACOPINO and JEANE MacINTOSH
Last Updated: 11:04 AM, November 3, 2012
Posted: 2:32 AM, November 3, 2012
Tony Rivera was at his wits’ end as he stood handing out food in Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Staten Island — where the arrival of FEMA and the Red Cross did little to disperse the frustration and anger of residents of the city’s “forgotten” borough.
“Where is everybody?” said an emotional Rivera, dean at New Dorp’s Crossroads Church, as he distributed donated groceries.
“I have just delivered food to a lady who has been stranded in her home with two children since the storm hit. I was the first person she had seen. The storm washed away the steps up to her door and she had to let down a ladder for me to bring the food up.”
“They forgot all about Staten Island,” Martinelli said.
Federal Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano yesterday visited the borough with FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino, promising that help was on the way.
Before they showed up, infuriated Staten Island City Councilman James Oddo took to Facebook to chronicle the plight of those in dire straits.
Moved by the pleas, private citizens from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania loaded up supplies and made their way toward the battered borough, and churches and synagogues organized clothing and food drives.
Con Edison crews worked feverishly to restore power, and by late yesterday said that 43,000 customers still had no electricity. Con Ed expected to halve that number by tonight, a company spokesman said.
As residents continued to plead for food, water and power, others learned that their homes had essentially been condemned by building inspectors — and Staten Island’s official death toll rose to 22, with more than 20 people still missing, police sources said.
Retired firefighter and Korean War hero George O’Regan, 79, was killed in a Sandy-related fall in a dark hallway at the New Lane Senior Houses, officials said.
Two more bodies, of an elderly couple, were pulled from a home in Midland Beach, where Sandy’s surge smacked into low-lying homes, sources said.
Emergency workers said they feared more bodies will surface as they go door-to-door, looking for those who were stranded when Sandy bore down on the borough. On Yetman Avenue yesterday, where the home of George and Patricia Dresch once stood, a new gap in houses served as a horrific reminder of Sandy’s wrath. The family — who had been robbed during Hurricane Irene — tried to ride out Sandy, but were swept out in a deadly deluge that slammed into their house. George Dresch and daughter Angela, 13, were found dead several yards from their home; Patricia is hospitalized. Angela’s friends said she posted increasingly frantic Facebook messages as the storm threatened the family home. Yesterday, at the request of the teen’s anguished mom, Pat — who remains hospitalized — Angela’s friends searched the ruins of the family’s home for personal items. “She asked us if we could look for photographs,” Kelly Larson, 14, told The Times of London. “We found some frames, but they are empty. There’s nothing left.” Department of Buildings officials went door-to-door, inspecting homes, largely along the hardest-hit eastern shoreline. Of the 650 inspected yesterday, 87 were deemed uninhabitable and marked with red placards. Another 227 were deemed damaged but livable, and 335 were given the green light that they were structurally sound. On Father Capodanno Boulevard — where cars, photographs and personal items littered yards, bungalows were blown off their foundations and cars stood in walkways — Betty Matos, 61, counted herself lucky that her two-family home was livable, though damaged. “The water came in and just blew out my first-floor doors,” Matos recounted. “The whole first-floor apartment was totally blown away.” Her kitchen cabinets were washed away, the refrigerator landed on the washer and dryer, and plasterboard and drywall were decimated by Sandy’s force. But, she said, “I’m feeling a little positive because my house is still standing.” Also yesterday, Staten Islanders displaced by the storm made their way home as ferry service resumed. Staten Island University geography professor Anup Desai, 27, boarded the boat from Manhattan yesterday morning, ready to help his community rebuild. “We’re volunteering for the Red Cross,” Desai said. “I think they’re opening another shelter on the island. We want to help.”
Earlier yesterday, fuming Borough President James Molinaro blasted the Red Cross as “an absolute disgrace” and urged Staten Islanders to quit donating to the organization.
“We have the worst tragedy that’s ever happened to Staten Island, and I would say New York City, since 9/11 — and we need help,” Molinaro said.
“This is America. This is not a Third World nation. We need food. We need clothing. We need everything you can possibly think of,” Molinaro said.
By yesterday, the Red Cross said that it had five emergency-response stations set up at New Dorp Lane.
A kitchen capable of distributing 10,000 meals a day will be up and running on Veterans Road by today.
Sixteen emergency-response vehicles and more than a dozen box trucks, with meals and supplies to aid clean up, will do drop-offs in the Tottenville, Huguenot, Midland Beach and New Dorp neighborhoods.
Additional reporting by Erin Calabrese and Frank Rosario