Among the Ruins

FEMA, Red Cross, Bloomberg ignoring Staten Island as city recovers from Hurricane Sandy, borough residents tell WFB


The death toll from Hurricane Sandy continued to climb in New York as more bodies were recovered in Staten Island over the weekend amid complaints that the federal government and emergency agencies are doing little or nothing to help storm victims.

Some residents are even saying they are the "forgotten borough" of New York City.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had planned to hold the NYC Marathon on Sunday, the starting line of which is in Staten Island. However, after widespread outrage from residents, local officials, and even the media, Bloomberg announced late Friday the marathon would be cancelled.

Bloomberg tried to avoid questions about the marathon during a press conference Saturday night, but finally said it "became a source of dissension and we don’t need that right now. … When it became a divisive issue, I just made the decision that it should not go on."

While Bloomberg claimed earlier in the week that no resources would be diverted to the marathon from hurricane victims, he said at Saturday night’s press conference that 600 medical blankets and 10,000 cases of water from the marathon would now be sent to Midland Beach in Staten Island.

Bloomberg’s decision to hold the marathon, according to Staten Island resident Vince Accetta, "was an absolute disgrace." After hearing the mayor cancelled it, he said, "Thank God he did. We need police presence here. There’s no power, no traffic signs, and a lot of looting going on."

The Free Beacon contacted the NY Police Department, the Fire Department of New York, Con Edison, and many victims to tell the story of Staten Islanders who are severely suffering seven days after the storm.

"We recovered two more bodies from Staten Island today," FDNY Spokesman Frank Dwyer told the Free Beacon on Friday. He said the Fire Department had searched more than 30,000 homes in three days.

Bloomberg said on Saturday night, "There were two additional fatalities related to Hurricane Sandy overnight, and one just a few minutes ago. The total now stands at something like 41 or 42. I think it’s 42 now."

Prior to the storm, hundreds of additional firefighters, fire trucks, ambulances, and staff were mobilized to help in the aftermath of Sandy. Firefighters are now in the process of assisting with the removal of debris, Dwyer said.

However, residents believe that the borough of Staten Island, unlike the borough of Manhattan, is not getting the help it needs in its time of crisis.

"Right now, help is not coming. It’s chaos," said Staten Island resident Pete Stazzone. "Staten Island is the forgotten borough. There’s no doubt about it. "

While he and his wife’s home in South Beach suffered no major damage, Stazzone said massive destruction is just a few blocks away.

South Beach and Midland Beach are among the hardest hit areas in New York. Many lives were lost and homes destroyed when the floodwaters rushed in.

Staten Island resident Accetta, who lives in Midland Beach, said he evacuated with his wife and two children last Sunday night but returned the next night to rescue his wife’s parents. He got out just in time. He lost all of his personal belongings. His house is uninhabitable.

But he survived. Others in Staten Island, including Accetta’s neighbor, were not as fortunate. The island has accounted for almost half of New York City’s death toll.

According to Accetta, the community is doing more right now to help residents than the local and federal government.

"I’m wearing shoes right now and I don’t know whose they are," he said, saying they came from someone who donated clothes. "People here just need the basics. They have no power and no clothes."

The Free Beacon asked if FEMA or the Red Cross were on hand to offer help. Accetta said FEMA did assess his house, and he saw a Red Cross truck drive down his street.

The worker in the truck, he said, asked if he needed snacks.

"That’s all you have?" he asked. The Red Cross worker replied yes.

There is a growing sense of despair and frustration in Midland Beach as residents lack even basic items such as gloves, cleaning supplies, and flashlights, Accetta said.

"It looks like a war zone, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in my entire life."

Chris Digiacomo, another Staten Island resident, said he and his niece have been handing out supplies door to door. Digiacomo said he lives in the Tottenville area of Staten Island and came out to help those in need.

He tried to explain the immediate need of residents and the inability of FEMA and the Red Cross to help.

"None of the first responders are getting into the hardest hit areas. I’ve spoken to over 300 people who are so shell-shocked," he said, "and they are not thinking to walk eight to 10 blocks" to where FEMA and the Red Cross have tables set up.

"The further they go in, more people need help. If these responders go by foot and enter these hard-hit areas, they could help," Digiacomo added.

He explained that these agencies are situated on a main road, near where the media is stationed, but they would better serve the people if they went inland.

Digiacomo told the Free Beacon of conditions on the ground, which include homes filled with sludge and water and with fish and dead rats floating about. The contents of everyone’s homes, now ruins, line the streets.

How the sanitation company will be able to handle the tons of what were once people’s personal belongings, he said, he does not know.

For Stazzone and his neighbors, FEMA is stationed in South Beach, he said, but the area is surrounded by marshland and people cannot get to them.

"Three people from our parish died. This island is so devastated. It’s just like Katrina," he said. "People are not getting help." He acknowledged the visit by the Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, who toured the area last week, but said still "nothing is getting done."

"People seem so angry with the government agencies because they are not getting help," Stazzone said. When asked to describe the area around him, he said, "there are no words for it."

Some help has come from Catholic and Jewish relief agencies, which have provided food and clothing. Besides those groups, it is basically neighbor helping neighbor as best they can.

Another glimmer of hope did come to the community early Saturday afternoon, minutes before the Free Beacon interviewed Digiacomo. Three Federal Express trucks pulled up, loaded with cleaning supplies, such as bleach, gloves, and some food and water, according to Digiacomo.

He said the driver, one Keith Koyner, took it upon himself to drive from Pittsburgh, PA, with these trucks loaded with items for Staten Island residents.

It could be a long while before power is restored to this hard-hit area. Con Edison said it could be another week before 90 percent of homes and businesses on the island have power.

"In Staten Island, the hope is to have the vast majority restored—the goal is to have 90 percent restored—by the week of the 10th and 11th," said Con Ed Spokesman Allan Drury.

"By far, this is the worst storm in the company’s history," Drury said.

Con Ed has been in business for 120 years.

Aside from loss of life, the devastation of property is widespread. Residents are now dealing with dropping temperatures and the possibility of a Nor’easter that may hit midweek.

Bloomberg’s announcement that schools will reopen on Monday has residents in this borough puzzled. Many schools here are still without power, and the high schools are serving as shelters for victims.

"I can’t see how schools are going to reopen, we don’t have power, and the high schools are being used as shelters—unless they are going to kick people out of the shelters," said Accetta. He added that a friend of his, a janitor in the school system, relayed to him that the conditions in the schools are "disgusting."

"How can you have children come into these conditions?" he asked.

Bloomberg said on Saturday night that some schools that have no power and others that serve as emergency shelters would not be able to reopen on Monday. He said he hopes to have them reopened on Wednesday.

Many residents interviewed said they expect the death toll will continue to rise in the upcoming days. They said the official numbers might be too low.

"I think the number is going to be higher," Accetta said.

Stazzone, too, said he thinks the number will rise.

Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto reported during a special program on Saturday that sanitation men were finding bodies in garbage piles in Staten Island.

The Free Beacon also looked into rampant rumors that a school in Staten Island near Midland Beach had been made into a makeshift morgue.

An NYPD spokesman said that the rumor is false and no school in Staten Island is serving as a morgue.

Mary Lou Lang

Mary Lou Lang   Email Mary Lou | Full Bio | RSS
Mary Lou Lang is a freelance writer whose stories have been published in The Revered Review, StreetAuthority, Trefis, the Daily Caller, and Area Development Magazine. Several of her stories have been republished on The Blaze and the Heartland Institute’s Heartlander Magazine. Prior to freelancing, she worked at financial magazines for Dow Jones and the A.M. Best Company.

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