When we visited the Staten Island neighborhood of Midland Beach just three days after Hurricane Sandy hit, five people were reported dead in an area spanning just a few blocks. That toll has risen to eight, which is the highest concentration of fatalities attributed to Sandy in the United States. Today the Times parses the heartbreaking stories of those who did not evacuate the neighborhood and why. “It weighs heavily on me,” City Councilmember James Oddo tells the paper. "It means to a certain degree that we in government failed."
Many residents declined to heed the city's mandatory evacuation of Midland Beach, located in Zone A, because previous storms hadn't come close to causing the destruction Sandy did. “They’ve warned us so many times before and nothing happened,” a livelong resident told the paper.
Christina Contrubis, whose brother drowned inside his Midland Beach home, said her brother had refused to evacuate because no one else seemed to be doing so.
“I tried very hard,” Ms. Contrubis said through sobs at her brother’s funeral on Monday. “Before the storm I called him up and said, ‘Gene, the storm, it looks bad!’ And he said, ‘Everybody’s staying; nobody’s leaving.’ He just told me: ‘I’m not going to leave. I’m not going to leave.’ ”
An NYPD release also details the efforts made to evacuate residents of Midland Beach, and echoes the sentiment that many residents believed evacuation to be unnecessary.
Police officers on Staten Island warned residents to evacuate from low lying areas, including Midland Beach. Sgt. Anthony Lisi, of NYPD Emergency Service Squad 5, whose extended comments continue below, noted “Many people who were rescued stated to ESU / SOD personnel that they knew about the evacuation but decided to stay and ride out the storm . They also cited that the forecasters had been wrong so many times before, and there had been so many false alarms, that they felt the same was happening with Hurricane Sandy.” Midland Beach Civic Association President Jasymin Amarato told Captain Veneziano that many residents were staying because they considered the previous evacuation associated with Hurricane Irene to be unnecessary. On the Sunday, October 28 two police cars were designated as “storm autos” that evening. They made announcements over the cars’ loudspeaker through all areas of the evacuation zone, instructing residents to evacuate . The next day, Monday, October 29 four police car were designated storm autos, making loudspeaker announcements to evacuate and to stop driving.
On Monday at about noon, Captain Joseph Veneziano, the Commanding Officer of the 122 Pct, contacted the presidents of the Midland Beach Civic Association and the South Beach Civic Association. Jasymin Amarato is the Midland Beach President and Joe McCallister is the South Beach President. Captain Veneziano told both civic association presidents that their neighborhoods should be evacuated. Both Civic association presidents stated that they would inform their members but both presidents stated that many residents are staying due to the false alarm with Hurricane Irene. Irene Flooded only a few feet and basements. The Midland Beach president, Jasmyn Amarato, lost her home during the storm. After the storm, Captain Veneziano personally took her and her husband to their home. On Monday morning after the first high tide, they had evacuated to a friend's house. After the storm, Captain Veneziano visited the Mccallister home but they had no damage.
None of the victims in Midland Beach were younger than 59. Many were infirm or had ailments that prevented them from evacuating. Some died with their pets.
Deputy Mayor Cas Halloway declined to categorize the city's evacuation efforts as a "failure" despite all the deaths in Midland Beach. “We are going to look at people who left and people who didn’t, and we’re going to talk to them about why." Deputy Mayor for health and human services Linda Gibbs adds, "If a person does not want to leave their home, we cannot force them."