Heating oil spills add to post-Sandy woes

Their house damaged by water and a ruptured oil tank after superstorm Sandy, the Devenish family is coping with homelessness in a leased trailer. Videojournalist: Thomas A. Ferrara (Jan. 10, 2013)

When Glenn Devenish returned with his wife to their Massapequa home the day after superstorm Sandy struck, he opened the door and the stench overwhelmed him.

Initially he thought the odor was from gas. But he was certain he had shut off the home's gas in anticipation of the storm.

"Then I said, 'No, it's not natural gas. I think it's oil,' " said Glenn Devenish, 47, a Suffolk County police sergeant.


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As he and his wife, Trish, tried to walk across the floors, that suspicion was confirmed.

"We were sliding all over the place," Glenn Devenish recalled. "It was like an ice-skating rink, and we were holding each other."

The oil -- and as much as 2 feet of floodwater -- is Sandy's legacy to them. The storm surge ruptured an in-ground fuel tank, left when the previous homeowner converted the house to gas heat, the Devenishes said. Glenn Devenish knew about the tank when he bought the house in Biltmore Shores in 1997, but the couple thought it was empty.

They are not the only people whose homes were invaded both by floodwater and home heating oil.

More than 4,600 oil spills were reported statewide after Sandy, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation responded to about half of those reports, pumping out about 500,000 gallons of oil and water. Long Island accounted for more than half of the spills, with 2,446 reported, the DEC said last month.

Damage on LI

Kevin Rooney, chief executive of the Hauppauge-based Oil Heat Institute of Long Island, said about 80 percent of the 600,000 Long Island households that use oil heat have tanks in their basements. Another 15 percent have tanks outside that are above ground, and the rest -- about 30,000 homes -- have in-ground tanks.

Sandy also damaged tanks located in crawl spaces and other above-ground locations, Rooney said, and his agency is studying ways to make tanks in those locations more secure.

"There were quite a few spilled or displaced oil tanks on the South Shore due to superstorm Sandy," said Gary Hughes, president of Metro Environmental Contracting Corp. in Lindenhurst. "We probably worked at about a dozen houses, with the Devenishes' being the worst contaminated." He estimated their 275-gallon tank had about 150 gallons of oil.

The original portion of the Devenishes' home was built in 1933, and the house is about 300 feet from the bay. But before Sandy, through nor'easters and Tropical Storm Irene, it never flooded during their years there.

Glenn and Trish Devenish and their son Jack, 9, and daughter Allie, 7, now live in a trailer in the side yard of their home. They share the 14-foot-wide by 50-foot-long space with assorted pets: a hamster named Sandy, a lizard named Newman and Fritz, the family cat.

They leased the trailer, at a cost of $28,000 for a year, after living for the first month post-Sandy with relatives nearby. The two-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath unit, partly funded by $7,400 in housing aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has allowed the family to stay on their property.

'Frustrating' time

Still, it represents a state of limbo that Trish Devenish, 41, a stay-at-home mom, called "very frustrating."

Sitting at a table in the trailer, she explained, "The first few months I was very positive. You know, chipper. Everybody's telling me I had the best attitude. You know what? I'm done now. Christmas came and I said to myself, 'I don't want to spend another Christmas in this trailer.'

"And now," she said, "judging by how every week goes by and we don't hear anything, we might have to spend another Christmas here in this trailer."

During about two weeks in November, Metro Environmental removed the underground tank, dug up and carted away yards of oil-contaminated soil, and ripped out the house's floorboards.

But nearly three months after Sandy, the smell of oil is strong, the odor wafting out as soon as Glenn Devenish opens the door to visitors.

The oil permeated the home's walls and, the couple said, even the cinder block foundation. It damaged Glenn Devenish's prized collection of autographed baseballs and the family's cherished photographs. "That's probably the worst thing," Trish Devenish said.

Claim filed

Their insurance company, Fidelity National Property and Casualty, has provided a $30,000 advance check for structural damage and $15,000 toward content losses. But the Devenishes said they think the oil has left their home uninhabitable.

Dolores Glass, spokeswoman for Fidelity National Property and Casualty, said privacy regulations prevented her from discussing individual claims. She said the claims adjuster had been back in touch with Glenn Devenish last week to "give him as much information as he needed."

Glass said a standard flood insurance policy generally treats damage by oil and water in the same way as water damage alone.

Trish Devenish said the claims adjuster quoted a settlement figure of about $160,000 for structural and content damage.

"Which is good," she said, "but it's not good enough to knock your house down and rebuild."

Glenn Devenish said the whole process is bewildering. "There's no manual for this," he said. "It's not something you practiced, so you don't know what to do."

With Emily C. Dooley

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