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As Courts Resume, Officers Hardest Hit by Sandy Try to Pick Up the Pieces

By Irene Plagianos | November 8, 2012 10:58am

MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — When Devin Accetta patrols the halls of Manhattan Supreme Court, where she’s worked as a court officer for the past six years, the pretty 32-year-old is usually met with warm, familiar greetings from fellow officers.

But as Downtown Manhattan's courts reopened Monday, after a weeklong closure due to the loss of power and heat in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Accetta was greeted by markedly different reactions.

“What are you doing here?” asked one officer.

“I really can’t believe you’re here,” said another.

“What am I going to do, stay home and cry?” she responded, with a quick smile. “I need to get my life back together.”

Like thousands of devastated New Yorkers, Accetta lost nearly everything she owned when her home — in Midland Beach, Staten Island, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Sandy — was ravaged by floodwaters as the hurricane battered the city on October 29.

But she wasn't the only court officer badly affected by the storm. At least four out of the more than 100 men and women who provide security in Manhattan Criminal and Civil Courts had their homes ruined during the hurricane.

Two of Accetta’s fellow officers and neighbors in Midland Beach, Ralph DeRosa, 54, and Raquel Fagone, 47, even had to be rescued out of their homes after massive waves of dark, icy waters gushed in, leaving them stranded.

Accetta, with her husband and 2 1/2-year-old twins, evacuated the night before the storm. But her parents, who live across the street, refused to head to higher ground.

That sent Accetta and her husband back to Midland Beach to beg her parents to leave that Monday evening, as the storm was pummeling her neighborhood.

“I was literally fighting with my dad, telling him he has to go, when all of a sudden water started coming into the house,” Accetta said. “We stopped fighting and we started running.”

She and her family dashed out of the house, jumped into their car and managed to drive 10 minutes, through rising floodwaters, to safety in neighboring Oakwood.

Accetta and her family are still in Oakwood, staying with her mother-in-law as they try to piece their lives together.  

Her house, which belonged to her grandfather, is still standing, though everything inside — family photos, clothes, furniture — was ruined by the murky, fast-moving water that surged into her home.

Last weekend, with the help of family, friends, neighbors and the cheearleading team she coaches, Accetta gutted her home.

But Accetta considers herself one of the lucky ones, as at least 10 of the 41 killed during the storm lived in and around Midland Beach.

“People in Staten Island have been amazing, trying to help us, and helping each other,” Accetta said. “And everyone here in court has been so kind, they all want to know how they can help.”

When Accetta arrived at work Monday, she found fellow officer Viviane Parrilla had already organized a donation drive.

A room usually used for jury deliberations on the 13th floor of Manhattan Supreme Court was filled with clothes and other needed supplies like flashlights and gloves for cleanup.

While the tight-knit crew of court officers figure out other ways to pitch in for their friends in need, New York State’s court system announced Monday that it was establishing a recovery fund that would accept donations to help those in the court system upended by Sandy.

“Many members of our court family have suffered; some have lost everything,” Ronald Younkins, chief of operations for the state court system, wrote in a memo. “As we have done many times in the past, we are coming together…to assist those in need.”

As for Accetta, she’s waiting for insurance and, hopefully FEMA money, to start rebuilding. In the meantime, she said, “it’s just one day at a time — and coming to work, that really helps.”