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Coney Island Shell-Shocked Amid Sandy's Destruction

By  Mathew Katz and Sonja Sharp | October 31, 2012 5:00pm 

CONEY ISLAND — For a second day, Coney Island residents awoke to see the destruction of Hurricane Sandy everywhere they looked and were left with little hope that things would improve anytime soon.

The area was left without power and abandoned cars blocked many streets. Seaweed and wreckage covered much of the neighborhood, and one one street, pieces of the iconic Coney Island boardwalk had landed on a truck, which itself had been tossed around by rushing water during Monday's storm.

Coney Island's local NYPD office, the 60th Precinct, was forced to relocate to a staging area in a plaza on Mermaid Avenue after its headquarters was flooded. Across the street were the smashed ruins of several local stores that had been broken into and looted after the chest-high flooding receded into the ocean.

The owner of NYBeauty One Beauty Supply Store, who identified himself as Peter, pointed to part of a metal roll-down gate he said was peeled off by opportunistic looters.

"They broke in and took the most expensive stuff — Indian Remy human hair," he said, adding that the thieves had also taken cash.

"I had two registers, they took everything. At least $200,000 worth of merchandise."

Daniel Merced, 47, said he saw a "wall of water" crash into a Citibank next door, leaving little but the ATMs and vault intact.

"I seen looting, they took whatever wasn't nailed down," he said. "Cops were too busy running up and down to do anything."

A block away on Neptune Avenue, custodians at P.S. 188 returned to work, but said they could not do much in terms of repair after much of the building's first floor had flooded.

"We're not trained for this," said one custodian.

Across the street at the Surfside Gardens housing project, NYCHA workers were stumped by a boiler room flooded with at least 10 feet of water. Residents navigated their pitch-black hallways by flashlight or candle.

Most tenants in public housing stayed in the neighborhood to ride out the storm, which provided one harrowing scene when a family of a mother and two children panicked, tried to escape during the brunt of the storm, and were trapped for hours on the roof of their car, witnesses said.

"They were there for a few hours, screaming, it was horrifying," said Deidre King, 45, who watched the scene unfold from her seventh-floor apartment.

"People were screaming out the window to her to get to the gate, to hold onto the gate, and she did while her kids sat on her shoulder."

King said she and other tried to call 911, but were told they should call the National Guard.

"911 said they weren't coming," she said.

The family was eventually rescued by a group of men who rushed outside to save her when the water went down. The family's two dogs drowned during the incident.

With recovery a long way off according to officials, many had given up hope of a speedy return to a normal life. Near the boardwalk, several residents from the Coney Island Houses on Surf Avenue used water from an open fire hydrant to wash their faces and brush their teeth. Their development, where they said roughly 2,500 people remained during the storm, was still without power or water.

"They closed down the Pathmark — we can't get food," said Chazarel, 30.

"The kids are hungry — we can't get food," said Chazarel, 30. "The kids are hungry, they're scared and crying."

Among the hardest hit area was Sea Gate, the gated community on the western coast of Coney Island. Though most residents had fled their homes well in advance of the storm, many came back to unfathomable destruction. Several beachfront houses had been completely destroyed.

Congregation Kneses Israel, a synagogue in the community, saw relatively little damage compared to the devastation near the beach — the building only saw its basement flooded.

"I think we're blessed," said its Rabbi, John Tendler.

"I didn't dream we'd have a home to come back to."

Not everyone was so upbeat. Surfside Gardens resident Stephanie Diaz, 22, said she feared for what would happen after dark, despite a huge police presence.

"We're got no power, no water," said Stephanie Diaz, 22.

"Tonight's Halloween. No lights. I'm expecting the worst."