Chris Levatino's house was surrounded by water. "It felt like you were in a boat in the middle of the ocean," he explained yesterday as he hosed off the driveway of his Staten Island home. "The waves were hitting my porch." Levatino's wife and children evacuated to a relative's house in Brooklyn when Hurricane Sandy hit, but he had stayed behind in Midland Beach and watched as water filled the first floor of his home. "I could see my neighbor through the window of his attic, and he was signaling SOS to me with his flashlight. I flashed back so he'd know I'd seen it. It was just really freaky, really scary."
Midland Beach was one of the hardest hit coastal areas of Staten Island, along with South Beach, Oakwood Beach, Eltingville and Tottenville. Three days after Sandy struck its streets were littered with downed power lines; cars and mobile homes were turned on their sides. Massive trees blocked roads, their huge clumps of black roots reeking of fresh earth. Stuffed animals sat next to propane tanks and Wiffle Ball bats, everything seemingly soaked with motor oil. In short, it is a nightmare.
Levatino, who works at Staten Island Hospital and also owns a roofing company, said he lost two vehicles during the storm. "My brand new pickup truck just floated down the street. I have no idea where it is, but it is shot." His roofing van is also ruined, leaving him unable to take new jobs, which are usually plentiful after a storm like this. "Not only has it hurt my home, but it's hurting me in the pocket." Still, he acknowledges that he's one of the relatively lucky ones: "Everybody's having a hard time. There's nothing to do but just clean it up."
Stec and Alex Renata, who live down the block from Levatino off Graham Boulevard, also consider themselves fortunate. "Compared to other people, it's not that bad," Stec said as he cleaned his garage. The couple's car was soaked in seven feet of water, and the dank stench from the floodwaters wafted up into their living quarters, but he and his family had safely weathered the storm in Brooklyn. "We just bought this house five months ago," Alex notes. "This is our first house."
Alfredo Zapata's home on Hunter Avenue was all but ruined by flood waters that rose to 11 feet and utterly devastated much of his block. "My next door neighbor died. Drowned. She was too old to leave," he said, adding the neighbor was only one of five people who were killed in Midland Beach during the storm. Down the street, two boys drowned after being ripped from their mother's arms by a rush of water. Zapata, a jeweler who works in Manhattan, spent Monday night at his brother-in-law's house further north on the island with his wife and two sons. "I couldn't sleep all night," he said. "I was really scared for what might happen."
Zapata said his boss told him to take as much time off as he needed, and that much of it will be spent waiting for help. "I'm waiting for the insurance company to come, and I'm waiting for FEMA to come, but nobody's come." An ATV pulling a wagon full of Homeland Security Urban Rescue Task Force members rolled by, and Zapata waved. "Except for the rescuers, nobody's come. I am a citizen of this country, I pay my taxes on time every single year, and this is their response?" He added, "My youngest, he's seven. He told me to protect his toys. His toys! I can't let him see this."
At least 20 of the 34 fatalities attributed so far to Hurricane Sandy in New York City occurred on Staten Island. "Irene had everyone thinking that this [storm] would be similar," Levatino said. "But everybody completely underestimated it."