Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond
4:49 pm
Mon November 5, 2012

Hard-Hit Long Island Awaits Power As Temps Drop

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 5:49 pm

A week after Hurricane Sandy hit the region, roughly 1 million people are still without power in the New York area, and more than one-third of those live on Long Island.

In the hierarchy of hurricanes that have hit Mastic Beach, N.Y., over the years, this one ranks near the top, says Mayor Bill Biondi.

"This is the worse we've had in a long time," Biondi says. "I guess the only thing that was worse than this ... was the hurricane of 1938. I haven't seen or heard anything in between those years that was worse than this one."

Temperatures are now dropping, but restoring power to these neighborhoods is a challenge. Biondi says the seawater that flooded homes here has corroded wires, creating countless fire hazards. A picture on his cellphone shows scorched siding on a house nearby.

"[So] that's pretty much what could happen," he says. "An electrical box — it starts to crackle, and the next thing you know is the house goes on fire."

Biondi says all the residents here want the power back on, but if the town moves too fast and hooks up houses like this, it could make things worse.

Frustration Is Building

At the town hall Monday morning, townspeople pour in pleading for power.

"It's bedlam," says Ann Smith, the town receptionist. "People want their electricity ... everybody expects us to concentrate just on them, and there are an awful lot of people down here who are very bad off. They've lost their homes; they have lost everything."

Now the area is bracing for another storm; a nor'easter that is expected to hit this town on Wednesday.

"Right now we do have teams of assessors out there trying to go home to home," says Deputy Mayor Gary Stiriz. "[They're] trying to get an accurate assessment of what homes can be lived in and what homes are uninhabitable at this point."

Stiriz says there are about 5,000 homes here, and authorities say more than 1,000 are flooded. The storm surge crashed through the barrier beaches on Fire Island that usually protect this little town. It cut a new inlet that is 3,000 feet wide and brought more than 4 feet of water flooding into some neighborhoods.

When floodwaters drained away, they left a mix of fuel oil and sewage behind, and the insides of many homes are now highly toxic.

Stiriz spent his life building a business on the Great South Bay — a marina — that suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage when most of it washed away this week. On top of that, his roof blew off and his home was destroyed.

"All of the things you acquire when you have wood shops and motor shops and metal shops, [all gone]," Stiriz says.

Stiriz is a native, and his family has been here since the 1920s. His own father rode out the 1938 hurricane and tidal wave. All his life his father told him to be careful, because anything you invest in on the waterfront is "eventually going to become hurricane food."

"Now I know what he meant," he says.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

One week ago, Hurricane Sandy began pounding the East Coast with high winds, rain and overwhelming storm surge. That means for many people it's been nearly a week without power, of struggling to clean up and put the pieces back together.

SIEGEL: Overnight lows in the New York area are expected to dip below freezing tonight. And of the more than 400,000 customers in New York state still without power, half live on Long Island. That's where NPR's Steve Henn visited the hard-hit village of Mastic Beach today, 60 miles east of Manhattan. And he begins our coverage.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: In the hierarchy of hurricanes and storms that have hit Mastic Beach, New York, over the years, this one ranks near the top, according to Mayor Bill Biondi.

MAYOR BILL BIONDI: This blows Gloria away. This is the worst we've had in a long time. I guess the only one that was worse than this, and it's before my time, was the hurricane of 1938. I haven't seen or heard anything in between those years that was worse than this one.

HENN: Now temperatures are dropping, but restoring power to this neighborhood is a challenge. Mayor Biondi, who goes by Bondo, says the salt water that flooded the homes here has corroded wires, creating countless fire hazards. He whips out his cell phone and shows me a picture: scorched siding from a house nearby. Wow.

BIONDI: That's pretty much what could happen.

HENN: So it was just - that's the backside of a box that was so...

BIONDI: It's an electrical box, and it starts to crackle, and then the next thing you know, the house goes on fire.

HENN: Bondo says all the residents here want the power back on. But if the town moves too fast and hooks up houses like this one, it could make things worse, much worse. But frustration is building. Townspeople pour into this tiny town hall all morning, pleading for power.

ANN SMITH: It's bedlam.

HENN: Ann Smith(ph) is the town's receptionist.

SMITH: People want their electricity. People want - everybody expects us to concentrate just on them, and there's an awful lot of people down here that are very bad off. They've lost their homes. They've lost everything.

HENN: And now they're bracing for another storm, a Nor'easter that's expected to hit this town on Wednesday.

GARY STIRIZ: Right now we do have teams of assessors out there, trying to go from home to home to get some sort of handle on an accurate assessment of what homes can be lived in and what homes are uninhabitable at this point.

HENN: Gary Stiriz is the deputy mayor. He says there are just over 5,000 homes here, but he estimates more than a thousand flooded. The storm surge crashed through the barrier beaches on Fire Island that usually protect this little town. The surge cut a new inlet that's 3,000 feet wide and brought more than four feet of water flooding into some neighborhoods. When the floodwater drained away, it left a mix of fuel, oil and sewage behind. What are the insides of those homes like right now?

STIRIZ: Highly toxic.

HENN: Gary Stiriz spent his life building a business here on the Great South Bay: a marina. This week, most of it washed away.

STIRIZ: Many hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

HENN: His roof blew off, his business flooded, his home was destroyed.

STIRIZ: And all of the things that you acquire when you have wood shops and motor shops and metal shops, all gone.

HENN: Stiriz has big callused hands and the weather-beaten face of a guy who spends as much time as possible out in boats and on the water. He's a native of this place. His family has been here since the '20s.

STIRIZ: And my own father actually rode through the 1938 hurricane tidal wave and was caught in it and actually washed up Cranberry Drive.

HENN: That's less than a mile from where we're standing.

STIRIZ: And all his life, all he kept saying to me was, be very careful, Gary, because anything you do and invest on the waterfront eventually is going to become hurricane food. Now I know what he meant.

HENN: Steve Henn, NPR News, Mastic Beach, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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