NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Surrounded by horrifying devastation, residents of Staten Island were preparing Monday night for another hit from a Nor’easter, which was predicted to plow through the area later in the week.
As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported Monday, the parking lot for the beach in Midland Beach had been turned into a temporary dump, staffed in large part by sanitation workers who live in the area and were affected by the storm.
But on Monday night, they were in a race against time as the Nor’easter approached.
The streets in Midland Beach were strewn with the wreckage of homes, cars and lives – block after block of devastation from last week’s storm.
“I had 13 feet of water throughout my entire neighborhood for over 20 hours. My house was submerged underwater. I lost a lot of personal property and a lot of personal damage,” said sanitation worker Russell Piazza.
For Piazza and his crew, the situation was personal.
“It’s just mind-boggling,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. All I can attempt to do is try to help in any which way possible – doing whatever we can. That’s my drive right now.”
“It’s children’s toys, people’s wedding albums, pictures,” added sanitation worker Adam Wertheimer. “All their memories, their lives growing up, everything. I grew up a couple blocks down from here. I’m picking up my friends’ and families’ belongings for their entire life. It’s unbelievable.”
The Nor’easter expected on Wednesday could bring 50 to 60 mph winds.
“Trees that have already been damaged are more likely to be falling in wet soil,” said Howard Glaser, New York State director of operations. “This is going to have an impact on recovery – the overall storm will – and an impact on trees and additional power outages.”
Crews on Staten Island said they were carrying away 10 tons of junk per truck, and each crew was hauling away four trucks a night.
“It’s tough. Family members of mine have lost their houses and everything; co-workers. We’re trying to help these people as much as we can. Myself and my co-workers, we’re not taking lunch breaks. We’re just continuing on and on to try and get these people some of their life back,” said worker Chris Tait.
Meanwhile, volunteers were coming in to donate and help on Staten Island. The damage they saw boggles the mind and baffles the ability even to express what one sees.
“No words,” said Jennifer Melitto, one of many volunteers fanning out through New Dorp Beach. “Just no words to describe what’s going on.”
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, Melitto and other volunteers were doing what they could to ease the burden of Sandy victims. They delivered food, water, clothes and other supplies.
One victim, Maggie King, said she saw her kitchen collapse into her basement.
“It’s hard to believe it’s a week. I just didn’t even realize that until you said that. It’s been rough. We’ve really been kind of walking around a little bit like zombies,” King said.
But as horrific as the scene was, with pile after pile of what used to be people’s belongings, it was progress from a few days earlier when Rosemary Grasso could barely reach her battered home.
“It was horrible,” Grasso said. “You had to climb over stuff to get to your house.”
Residents picked through the rubble, looking through scraps of their pre-Sandy lives to save.
James Downey had 7 feet of water in his house on Marine Avenue. He salvaged some Beanie Babies and put them in the sun to dry out.
“I think it’s comedy, being funny, try to get people to laugh,” he said.
Down the street, another family was also turning to humor to cope, putting out the books How to Dejunk Your Life and The Big Cleanup.
The woman who put the books out, Stephanie Parello, said a sense of humor was “essential – how else are you going to do it?”
But the mood was more somber for many.
WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reports from New Dorp
“How could it be, I lost everything,” one woman told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “All our clothes. Everything that we own is gone.”
She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had just denied her request for assistance.
Her sadness went away when she saw an army of volunteers wheeling carts full of food and clothes down the street, Silverman reported.
“I call them angels. They are all angels. I’m not crying for this. I’m crying for the goodness in people,” she said.
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One of the volunteers was Al Anzalone, who grew up on Staten Island but has since moved away.
“192 Ebbets. If you’re in need of anything, please come here. We are going to have hot food, lunch,” Anzalone told Silverman.
Staten Island residents have also been helping their neighbors, despite losing everything themselves. Some opened their homes to people who were left homeless by Sandy.
“Too bad we can’t always be like this. There’s no words and I could never thank them enough,” one resident said.
“All the help that everyone’s giving, it’s amazing,” a man told Silverman.
“We’re all human beings, we all have to help each other,” a New Dorp resident said.
1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reports
Still others said help is not coming quickly enough, especially with falling temperatures and a Nor’Easter on the way.
“Nothing could be saved in here,” a New Dorp resident told Silverman. “There’s raw sewage that came in, some medical waste that came in.”
“Our houses are restricted, we can’t stay in our houses. We have no water, no heat, no electricity. Our houses haven’t been checked for structural damages yet,” one woman told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck. “We’re trying to hold ourselves [together] but sometimes it just breaks through.”
“We’re trying to clean up, we’re trying to understand,” another resident told Schuck.
In Tottenville, residents are picking up the pieces one week after Sandy devastated the community.
“Right now, I guess people are concentrating on surviving the winter,” retired FDNY firefighter John Petersen told Silverman.
WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reports from Tottenville
“Why is my life sitting in the woods, pieces of it?” Veronica Petersen asked through tears.
She is a retired teacher now working as a bereavement counselor.
“But when you live it, it’s a totally different experience,” she said.
Volunteers from Staten Island and beyond have been out in force across the borough offering help any way they can, residents told Silverman.
“We have had over 1,000 people come through the yard offering assistance,” John Petersen said.
FEMA opened three shelters on Staten Island to help residents apply for federal disaster relief.
“We have currently set up three disaster relief centers in the Staten Island area. One, of course, at Miller Park, one at Father Capodanno [Blvd] at Hunter [Avenue] and one in Mount Loretto and these three disaster relief centers are locations where individuals can show up and register for FEMA disaster assistance,” FEMA spokesman John Knowles told 1010 WINS.
Knowles said the effort on Staten Island will be going strong until residents get the help they need to recover from Sandy.
“We’re going to be here as long as it takes to support the community efforts, to support the state and local government leaders and assisting with this disaster recovery. There’s no timeline, we’re not setting an end date here. We’re here for the long haul to help the residents of New York and specifically Staten Island,” Knowles told 1010 WINS.
FEMA representatives are going house to house to ensure everyone gets the help they need.
“Patience is very key in any kind of disaster, but we’re here now and we’re making every possible effort that we can to reach out door-to-door to each individual to make sure they know what to do. How to register, how to get the assistance that they need. And we’re making every effort that we can right now with our 120-plus community relations individuals as well,” Knowles told 1010 WINS.
Residents seeking help from FEMA can apply for assistance by going online to disasterassistance.gov or calling 1-800-621-3362.
Meanwhile, the historic Old Bermuda Inn, at 301 Veterans Rd. on Staten Island, is offering free hot lunches. Three seatings are available through Friday at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. For more information, call (718) 948-7600.