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Staten Island: New York’s most battered borough

Garbage lies piled on the street in the New Dorp neighbourhood of Staten Island, N.Y., in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

Seth Wenig/AP

All along this slender stretch of Staten Island, the homes have been turned inside out.

The things normally found in kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms – mattresses, fridges, ovens, toasters, cupboards, teddy bears, exercise bikes – are heaped on curbs and roads, waterlogged and covered in mud, awaiting removal.

Inside, the houses are gutted, destroyed by the wall of water that poured from the nearby ocean as Hurricane Sandy smashed into New York.

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On Father Capodanno Boulevard, Anatoly Petrikovsky and his wife, Anna, invited me into their cold, dark, ruined home. They spent the storm there, huddling on the second floor with their two children, a cat and a rabbit.

"I'm an idiot who stayed to protect my property," said Mr. Petrikovsky, 46.

It didn't work out that way. Surveying the damage, he hazarded a guess on how much time the repairs would take. "I don't think we're going to celebrate New Year's in this house."

Six days after a storm of unimagined fury struck New York, the extent of the destruction is stunning. In the hardest-hit areas of New York – the coast of Staten Island and Rockaway Beach in Queens – neighbourhoods are uninhabitable, still without power or heat as frigid winter temperatures settle in. On Sunday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 people in the city would need alternate housing.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Staten Island – the least famous and most isolated of New York's five boroughs – became a symbol for official neglect. Anger at conditions there helped drive the cancellation of the New York Marathon, which would have started at the northern tip of the island. By Sunday, a more robust relief effort was in gear.

Still, there was fury under the surface.

At one single-storey house a block away from the main coastal boulevard, all of a family's possessions were piled on the road, destined for a garbage truck. A white sign tacked above the door condemned Mr. Bloomberg with a pithy expletive.

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Mr. Petrikovsky and his family are among the fortunate ones: They are staying with relatives in Brooklyn as the long slog to fix their home begins. And unlike some of their neighbours in the Midland Beach area, they weathered the flood without injury.

Of the 40 deaths caused by the storm in New York, roughly half took place on Staten Island, all of them along its southern coast. About three kilometres up the road from Mr. Petrikovksy's home is the site of one of the storm's most cruel tragedies, the place where two small boys drowned after being torn out of their mother's arms by surging waves as she attempted to get them to safety.

At a bustling relief centre nearby, city and federal agencies offered meals, water, blankets, and transportation to heated shelters. A telecom company provided a truck where people could charge their cellphones.

New Yorkers also seized the chance to help. Maureen Brody, a spa owner and runner in Brooklyn, had solicited donations of food, clothing and supplies from friends and family and set off Saturday morning for Midland Beach.

There she found her corner: in front of a damaged pet store, which had struggled with looters and one door down from a building that burned to the ground in the storm. On Sunday, Ms. Brody and her fellow volunteers were handing out hot soup and coffee, plus blankets, jackets and cleaning supplies.

Ms. Brody, 35, said she was overwhelmed by some of the stories she had heard. "One woman came, nine months pregnant, who had lost everything for her baby …" She paused for a moment, her eyes filling with tears. "I'm sorry, it's just crazy."

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On much of Staten Island, life is returning to normal. A drive down Hylan Boulevard, one of the island's main arteries, gives no hint of the devastation just a couple of kilometres away. The lengthy lines at gas stations – a grinding shortage still plagues New York City – are the most unusual sight.

Back on Father Capodanno Boulevard, the sun was glinting off a calm Atlantic Ocean. Ari and Sasha Malamud were cleaning the gutted first floor of their home. The silty fingerprints of the storm were everywhere, from the family's cutlery drawer, filled with mud and leaves, to the buckled floor, gritty with dirt.

Ms. Malamud, 56, said the worst feeling for her was guilt: Although the family evacuated the house before the storm, they neglected to move anything to the second floor. The surging water swept away irreplaceable photos, a hundred years old, going back several generations to the family's roots in rural Ukraine. Discovering those albums – their contents dispersed or stuck in the mud – was "heartbreaking," she said.

But the couple put on a brave face. They would try to restore what photos they had found. They would move on, as they always had.

"It's a lot of work, but it has to be done," said Mr. Malamud, 57. "There is no other choice."

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About the Author
U.S. Correspondent

Joanna Slater is an award-winning foreign correspondent for The Globe based in the United States, where her focus is business and economic news and New York City.Her career includes reporting assignments in the U.S., Europe and Asia. In 2015, she was posted in Berlin, Germany, where she covered Europe’s refugee crisis. More

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