Battered by storm, Staten Islanders feel forgotten

By MEGHAN BARR Published: November 3, 2012
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Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro suggested this week that people should not donate money to the American Red Cross because that relief agency had neglected his borough.

“We have hundreds of people in shelters throughout Staten Island,” he said. “Many of them, when the shelters close, have nowhere to go because their homes are destroyed. These are not homeless people. They're homeless now.”

The controversy surrounding this weekend's New York City Marathon, which was cancelled Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had special resonance among Staten Islanders. The lucrative race begins on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and would have brought nearly 50,000 runners to an area not far from the Staten Island neighborhoods where people died.

Resident George Rosado, 52, who spent two days scrubbing a thick layer of sludge from his tiled floors and was preparing to demolish the water-logged walls of his home, found the idea repulsive. Except for a lone hospital van offering bottled water and power bars, Rosado had seen no federal, state or local agencies in his neighborhood, which sits about a block from the ocean.

“Nothing, nothing,” he said, choking back tears. “We're hit hard. Homes are washed away. People are dying. Look around. You hear anything? It's quiet.”

The city's tourism officials have long complained that Staten Island is the one borough that nobody wants to visit. But that has never bothered the half-million people who reside in this community, which is more suburban than urban and has a high concentration of police officers and firefighters.

It's a place families are drawn to by the allure of having their own backyard and raising their children in a small-town atmosphere.

“We were all around family, you know what I'm saying?” said 68-year-old Joseph Miley, Clarkin's cousin. “A person went away and there was always somebody here to watch their house, watch their animals.”

In fact, so many relatives lived on the same street that they jokingly referred to it as “The Compound.”

That's all been wiped out now. The family's mud-spattered possessions lie dumped on the street; their homes will be bulldozed.

Billy Hague, 30, described paddling around the neighborhood looking for his missing 85-year-old uncle, James Rossi, who refused to evacuate before the storm.

“I kayaked back to the house and broke the windows and got in the house trying to find him,” he said. “I found the dog, but I didn't find him until the next day until the waters subsided.”

Rossi was among the 19 Staten Islanders claimed by the storm. His dog also drowned.

Hague, Clarkin and other now-homeless family members are bunking with relatives who live on higher ground, just beyond the reach of the devastating ocean waves. They have no idea where they will live. They do not have the money to rebuild their homes.

But they have each other. Amid the debris and the broken glass and the uprooted trees, an American flag blew in the breeze. Clarkin waved a dismissive hand at the scene of destruction. She considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“People perished,” she said. “This is stuff. That's all.”