Long after receding back to sea, the floodwaters of Sandy continue to erode, undermine and loosen roots on South Fourth Street in Lindenhurst.
Families that have lived for decades on the street, which runs along a canal and ends at the bay, are getting tired and voicing once-unspeakable thoughts.
"Even in February, March, I was saying absolutely I would rebuild if it happened again," said Rhonda Verrier, who lives with her husband Remi in the bayfront house he summered in as a child and that they built into a year-round home in 1977.
"Now, depending on what they'd offer us, we would strongly contemplate accepting a buyout . . . as much as it would break my heart."
For now, they stay. On a bright May day, new windows finally replaced the boards that blocked the view out to the rippling currents on the bay and to a yard eroding bit by bit behind their still-damaged bulkhead. It would take close to $100,000 to fix, and they don't have it to spend. Work on their flooded first floor could take another two or three months.
"I honestly thought we'd be up and back together by now," she said.
This small section of a block in Lindenhurst is a microcosm of the state of recovery seven months after the Oct. 29 storm that damaged so much. Some homes are repaired, or well under way. Others are still vacant, although homeowners are lining up contractors now that the insurance money has finally come. Yet uncertainties -- about money, building permits, even whether to stay or go -- can blur any view of what comes next.
"A lot of people are progressing at different rates," said Erik Stanclik, one of 22 disaster case managers who work for Catholic Charities and help connect Sandy victims to philanthropic groups funding unmet needs. "Almost everybody is slowly progressing to a new normal."
On South Fourth Street, the women, primarily, busily network with news important to homeowners. They do it now informally since the closure of Camp Bulldog, the volunteer relief center in Shore Road Park where they met for hot meals and vital information.
By now, more than seven months after Sandy struck, some have signed up for case managers to help them navigate the many layers of assistance, and some have tapped into funding for all the things left uncovered by insurance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Referrals from neighbors
Jacqueline, 44, and Donald Salvia, 48, whose high ranch's first floor was repaired with insurance money, weren't covered for the mess left outdoors. Then, she said, "A neighbor around the block gave me the name and number of a woman at United Way who was helping her, and she said there would be a meeting at the Rainbow [Senior Citizens] Center in Lindenhurst and all these organizations were there."
Now the mess outdoors is fixed too, she said. Deck repairs, removal of oil-saturated soil, and installation of fresh soil and grass were paid for with about $8,000 from United Way. The Red Cross paid about $5,000 to help repair the roof.
Striking that note of exhaustion and trepidation heard along this block, she added, "If water got in the house again, obviously I'd have to get everything fixed again and then I'd have to move. I wouldn't want to go through that again."
Her neighbor across the street, Jocelyn Minier, 41, who referred a half-dozen neighbors on the block to her own contractor, said much the same even though she lives in the house she grew up in -- her family now lives on the first floor, where repairs from the flood are nearly complete, her sister's family on the second.
"If this happens again, and my house doesn't get elevated, I'd hand the keys to the mortgage company and say 'I'm done,' " she said. "I don't know if I could do this again."
Overwhelmed by debt
Emil and Barbara Caiazza are back in their house after months in a rented apartment and a trailer in the front yard. But the backyard is still a wreck and they are tired and in debt.
If a buyout plan were actually in place, "I definitely would consider it because we're so much in debt. I have charge cards totaling $30,000, I'm paying interest on it, and with two kids in college it's overwhelming," said Barbara Caiazza. "I would take the money and get out of here. I don't know if you would . . . ," she said to her husband.
He shrugged. "Our son loves it here."
She did too, when the kids were little, and fished and boated from the end of the street, but now, "I'm done. I'm just shot with it all. I don't think it'll ever end."
She looked out over the backyard, where a pool and deck once stood. She laughed, "We had a decent lawn at one point . . . we're not that young anymore. We really want to move to Florida."
And Leon Strobel, the Verriers' neighbor who said he got a stop-work order when he had his damaged garage raised without a permit, asserts he too wants to sell his house and leave.
"I've been here since 1980 and I've never seen it so bad," he said. The street gets flooded with standing water after every rainstorm, he says, creeping far up his driveway. Friday's rain, he said, put his driveway under 8 inches of water, but no homes were flooded.
Insurance funds still needed
Work is now under way in the little bungalow of sisters Linda Vanderhoof, 64, and Millie Perrotta, 63. Frank Shannon, their neighbor in a high ranch across the street, used an out-of-state crisis recovery company, Remarkable Restoration, to repair his house, and now the contractors are busy at work in the gutted bungalow.
"It's exhausting," said Perrotta, who has been staying with a son since the storm. "It's been stretched out way too long, much longer than it needed to be."
Construction work on the bungalow began March 1, said Vanderhoof, after "the insurance people finally came across with my money . . . I couldn't find a contractor in the beginning: How can you hire a contractor when they say they want $75,000 and you have only $8,000 in your hand?"
She said she will still need grants, or more insurance money, to cover her costs.
Her contractor, Brian Andrews, 33, has taken a year lease on a house for himself and his crews while they do Sandy renovations here. Based in Tennessee, he travels the country for the higher pay of crisis renovations: six months in Houston after Hurricane Ike, two years in New Orleans after Katrina, a year in Nashville for the floods there.
As bad as Sandy was, he said, he's seen much worse. He compares the 8-foot storm surge here to the 35-foot surge in Katrina. "That's pretty much the size of a tidal wave, and that was recorded in Mississippi in Katrina."
Luigi Stolfa, 31, a Navy veteran, had just moved into his house near the end of the street when Sandy hit, shifting it off its foundation with 8 feet of floodwater outside, 48 inches within.
He has been torn between leaving and renovating, going so far as to list his still-unrepaired house with a realtor for the month of May. It didn't sell.
After protracted difficulties with his insurers, he got his insurance money in March. Now he is getting estimates from contractors, and plans from an architect. He'll raise the house once he gets a permit.
While his neighbor Alex Fokine continues to live in his home as he makes repairs, other nearby houses also remain vacant. For months, Stolfa divided his nonworking hours between a nearby rental apartment and a camper in the yard, but is now renting with a friend in Freeport.
Stolfa hasn't networked much with the neighbors. He didn't know that case managers were helping others get funds until being introduced to Minier, who gave him some names to call.
Despite all the hardships of trying to rebuild, he would be OK if he ends up staying on South Fourth Street, he said.
"I love the house, I love the location," he said. "They knocked the house down next to me so now I have an open bay view."