In Staten Island, Beachfront Communities Resemble War Zones

By Janet UpadhyeNicholas Rizzi and Ben Fractenberg  on October 31, 2012 7:53pm

STATEN ISLAND — Michael Dodge stepped outside his house on Hunter Avenue Monday night just in time to see a rush of water surging from the bay onto his small block.

He grabbed his cat and radio and climbed the ladder up to his attic. Through his hatch door he watched the waters rise to the ceiling of his living room, praying the water would eventually stop.

"I thought I was going to die," he said.

Near the top of his 10-foot ceiling the waters stopped rising. But he spent the night keeping vigil, making sure the water stayed where it was.

Tuesday morning he crawled onto the roof and waved a white curtain for more than two hours. Eventually a FDNY plastic raft came by and picked him up. He had to leave his cat behind.

"I lost my home and my car, and possibly my cat," he said. "I lost everything."

The Mid-Island area of Staten Island looked like a war zone on Wednesday, with houses torn apart, smoldering debris and personal belongings strewn about public streets. Waters in the area had reached over a half mile inland to Hylan Boulevard during Hurricane Sandy.

Waist-high water still filled many neighborhoods as locals attempted to salvage what they could from their flooded homes and businesses.

One block from Midland Avenue, on Nugent Avenue, a disabled man drowned in his house. The wheelchair-bound 67-year-old lay in his bed as waters rose around him, according to a neighbor who would not give her name.

"I had to go find the family to help identify him," she said. "[He was] lying in his bed."

Margaret Kehoe, 22, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she helped the family look for the man during the hurricane.

"We called the hospital, the hospital said he was there. But when we went to check he wasn't there."

On the other side of New Dorp Lane, Lenny Montalto was trapped in his basement during the hurricane.

Tuesday morning his daughters, looking for Montalto, discovered his wallet and two dogs in his house. According to neighbors, they then knew that something was wrong; he would never leave without his pets.

His body was discovered Wednesday morning, police said. He was 54 years old.

“Lenny was a gentle guy," said neighbor Robert English. "He walked with his daughter on her paper route each morning, helping her deliver."

Down the block a father John Filpowizz, 51, and his son John Filpowizz, Jr., 20, were found buried under debris in their basement on Tuesday. They also died during the storm.

"They would always say hello and were there to help out," said neighbor Linda Rosa, 44. "John Jr. was always a good kid, working and going to school."

While rescue workers searched for victim in their homes, the community frantically continued looking for two young boys separated from their mom during the storm.

Officials combed the marsh off Father Capodanno Boulevard for the 2 and 4-year-old brothers who disappeared after their mother's car was submerged in South Beach just before 6 p.m. on Monday evening.

Neighbors said police pulled the blue SUV, with two car seats in the back, out the marsh on Tuesday.

"Please find these babies," said South Beach resident Celeste Frances, 47. "You feel emptiness because you're a mother."

Police blocked off Father Capodanno from Sand Lane to Seaview Avenue Wednesday afternoon while the search continued using helicopters and dogs.

While the city remained relatively peaceful and orderly there were some accounts of looting in Midland Beach.

"They took everything. My TVs, my safety deposit box," said Kehoe, who has a 2-year-old child and is nine months pregnant.  "It's sickening. You see people have nothing left and this is what you do."

Three more people were found dead in their homes in Midland Beach Wednesday, police confirmed while rescue workers continued to go door-to-door, checking on every house in the neighborhood.

"It's devastating," said Don Rickenbaugh, 50, who lives in Midland Beach about the deaths. "It's horrible that this happened."

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