NEW DORP BEACH — Almost a month after Hurricane Sandy decimated neighborhoods along Staten Island's eastern shore, nearly 1,000 residents in the borough still have no power.
As of Tuesday, approximately 919 Con Edison customers in Staten Island lacked electricity because of damage from the storm, a utility spokeswoman said.
To get power back, residents need to hire a licensed contractor to make repairs because the remaining damage is inside their property.
But many said insurance companies and FEMA had refused payments, and they couldn't afford the fixes themselves.
“I had to go into my pocket to get what I got done,” said Joseph Ingenito, 47, who paid an electrician to repair the electricity in his New Dorp Beach home on Topping Street.
“I’m broke now. I am broke. I need help.”
Last week, Ingenito and his wife Debbie finally got power back after he paid an electrician to replace his fuse box and rewire his home, but he can't afford to put in new boilers to heat his property.
His first floor and basement — where his fuse box was — got completely submerged in water during the storm, and he has been living off generator power in his second floor.
He was installing a hot water heater himself and said he had spent more than $10,000 of his own money in repairs, with no reimbursements from his insurance company for the work.
Now he's worried his pipes will freeze because of the cold weather before he can afford to buy a new boiler, adding to his expenses.
“We need boilers. Our pipes are going to start freezing now it's getting cold,” he said. “My pipes freeze on the top floor then I got nowhere to live.”
He said he’s been calling the insurance company several times a day, but still hasn’t gotten any reimbursement or money from them.
“They just say fill out the paper work. 'You fill out the paper work, you'll hear from us in five to 10 days.' It’s a month,” he said.
“They're just brushing us right off,” he said. “I can't wait no more. I want to be reimbursed for what I did. That's why I pay insurance.”
While Ingenito got power back, many of his neighbors couldn't afford to do the work at all.
This weekend, a house a block away from Ingenito on Center Street caught fire when the owner's wood burning oven, his only source of heat, sparked a blaze, the New York Post reported.
Eddie Saman, 57, who was uninjured in the fire, had been living without heat or power in his gutted bungalow since the storm hit, the Post reported.
Ingenito said he was one of the only houses on his block to have power back.
“It’s the whole community. Nobody's getting checks,” he said. “Nobody can afford it. That's why these people aren't doing it."
FEMA said that they have been giving out money faster than during almost any other disaster.
“We’re putting more money to more people faster than practically any disaster that I’ve ever worked on,” said agency spokesman Ed Conely, who’s worked with FEMA for 30 years.
“Our goal is to get them everything that they’re eligible for from FEMA as quickly as possible.”
Conley said that 18,716 households in Staten Island signed up for FEMA, and the agency has given out $71.8 million in grants to residents. He said the grant money FEMA hands out can be used to rent a home temporarily or to make repairs.
Ingenito said he already received a little less than $3,000 from FEMA, but that wasn’t nearly enough to cover the electrical repairs in his house.
The average electrical repair cost for homes in New Dorp Beach has been between $1,000 to $5,000, said Vasili, an electrician working in the neighborhood who didn’t want to give his last name.
Vasili, an electrician for 30 years, said that damage to the homes was the worst he’s ever seen, and in some cases all of the electrical wires needed to be completely replaced.
“It’s a complete mess,” he said. “In my opinion, it's going to take at least six-plus months to get back to normal.”
Many residents complained to Vasili that they couldn't afford the repairs, he said.
“Some people, they don’t have money, they don’t want to pay, they think it’s very expensive,” he said.
“We give them a receipt with a description of what we did and they have to submit to the insurance company to get the money back. The insurance companies have been playing some games, they try to avoid some responsibility.”
Last week, all homes without damage to their electrical systems in Staten Island had their power restored, Con Edison said. Before a home or business can receive power, they have to be given a certification by a licensed contractor that they are safe to get energy back.
But for Ingenito’s neighbors, the wait and the money are too much.
“We all need help here,” he said. “It's the whole community."