Oceanside residents welcome mold cleanup crew

Americorps crew member William Burks, a volunteer from Americorps crew member William Burks, a volunteer from St. Louis, MO, cleans mold from a home in Oceanside that was affected by superstorm Sandy. (Jan. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Oceanside resident Christina Salazar received some welcome visitors Thursday.

They came in the form of a mold cleanup crew -- an AmeriCorps emergency response team of six from Missouri and Washington state, trained to travel the country, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help communities get a jump on recovery after disasters.

Salazar, 24, lives on Morrow Road with her mother and 6-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome. Their two-story home flooded during Irene in August 2011.

Though they had flood insurance, money was too tight to hire a contractor, said Salazar, who deferred completing a degree at Baruch College to set up a home-based pet care business.

So she and her mother did most of the work -- re-laying subfloors, fitting windows and kitchen cabinets -- aided by Salazar's boyfriend and another friend. The family had just completed the work when Sandy engulfed the home's downstairs with 41/2 feet of water.

"The washer and dryer still had their stickers on them -- that's how new everything was," she said quietly, watching as the AmeriCorps crew, led by Bruce Bailey, of St. Louis, scrubbed and scraped at mold spots, treating the exposed wood frame, walls and crawl space with mold suppressant to make the home safe.

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Adding to the family's troubles, their flood insurance lapsed shortly after her mother paid off the mortgage a year ago -- something they learned when Salazar's mother went to double check shortly before Sandy.

Salazar recalls how she cried when she first saw the house a day after superstorm Sandy struck. "I was hysterical, I couldn't breathe."

Desperate, the family turned to FEMA and a Lutheran church disaster services group for help. The church group -- one of the many volunteer organizations helping Long Islanders displaced by Sandy -- aided with the initial muck, stripping the downstairs to studs.

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FEMA is funding a hotel stay for the family until the home becomes inhabitable. They also qualify for the maximum federal housing assistance grant of $31,900.

Friday, the home will start to be refitted with heat and electric through the joint county-FEMA Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program, or STEP, which provides rudimentary repairs so residents can live in their homes during major reconstruction.

Bailey is leading six to eight similar AmeriCorps cleanup crews daily and said each team can typically do one house per day.

FEMA coordinator Mike Byrne said Salazar's situation was typical -- needing contributions from the homeowner, nonprofits and government. "The system's a jigsaw and we need all the parts to come together for it to work, but it does make sense," he said.

Long Islanders have until next Friday to sign up for STEP. The number to call in Nassau is 888-684-4267, or 211 in Suffolk. People seeking additional volunteer assistance to clean up their homes can also call 211 Islandwide to request help, Bailey said.

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Salazar struggled to express her gratitude Thursday.

"It's awkward for me to stand by and watch these guys. I'm used to doing the work myself," she said.

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