NEW DORP — By the time Vincent Caravello got back to his neighborhood after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, he found his roof lying in a nearby field.
Standing on Kissam Avenue, the street he’s lived on for decades, Caravello looked up from picking up the pieces of his family’s life and pointed off in the distance.
“The rest of my house is on Mill Road,” he said. “My deck is on Fox Beach Avenue.”
Kissam Avenue is a striking scene: The road, surrounded by marshland on two sides and the ocean to the southeast, is scattered with debris. The remains of houses that were lifted off their foundations by Hurricane Sandy’s strong winds are everywhere — some dragged around the corner, others thousands of feet away.
In the middle of the street sits a smashed roof with no sign of the house it belongs to. Other lots were left with nothing but front staircases. An eerie silence blankets the block, punctuated by the occasional creak of a swinging door that survived the devastation.
In all, neighbors on the close-knit block say 13 houses were destroyed by Sandy’s winds. The ones that remained standing were flooded by 8 feet of water, or had a, entire wall ripped off by the storm.
Most of the block’s residents were left homeless by the storm and now plan to move away from where they had raised a family or intended to spend their retirement.
Three years earlier, the same group of residents had pulled together to survive another hardship, after an Easter Sunday fire in 2009 was spread by strong winds, damaging several homes. But that boding experience may have been their last time, Caravello lamented.
“We weren’t neighbors, we were a family. Now that’s gone, too,” said Caravello, 59, as he collected what sentimental knickknacks had survived. “Now we’re looking for parts of our lives.”
For Caravello, that includes a magnifying glass that belonged to his father, a shark-shaped mailbox he built himself, and half of a fishing rod he used to teach his son, Vincent Jr., to fish.
“I’m trying to find whatever I can rescue,” said Caravello’s wife, Jane, 57. "We have no money now. I have to save what I can.”
Just a few lots away, photographer Anthony Puglia, 60, lost his life’s work of photos dating back to 1979, after the storm blew his recently renovated house off its concrete foundation.
Pulling together the remains of his photography equipment, Puglia, who retired in April, said he was done with the neighborhood where he and his wife planned to spend the rest of their lives.
“I’m gone,” he said. “I’m gone to Jersey.”
Puglia’s wife, Phyllis, was wandering the shell of their house in a daze, bursting into tears when she found each new memento.
“We don’t know where to go or what to do,” she said. “What kind of future do we have?”
The couple said they had seen few government officials since they returned to their homes last week. One FEMA representative walked down the block early on, they said, but told Puglia he could not immediately make a claim because the rep couldn’t photograph their house — because it wasn’t there anymore.
“My wife has cried so much, but I’m just trying to be strong,” said Puglia. “You have to come to grips that there’s some things you’re never going to find again and that some people just aren't going to help you.”
Jane Caravello agreed that the FEMA response was disappointing. The organization could only offer her family a low-cost loan, not any reimbursement for their destroyed home. Since Friday, they’ve heard nothing from officials, they said
“We need a FEMA person,” she said. “They told us to give them a phone number, but even if we did, we don’t have a phone — so they couldn’t contact us.”
As they trudge through their once-vibrant neighborhood, a handful of neighbors on Kissam Avenue have tied American flags to their former homes, looking at the symbol as a source of strength.
“I can’t cry. I’m not going to cry,” said Caravello, as he returned to his search for the pieces of his life, scattered across the street.
"I’m going to put my tail between my legs and move on.”