Baldwin residents desperate for help after sewage flood
Dozens of homes in a Baldwin neighborhood were flooded with raw sewage when superstorm Sandy roared ashore, and two weeks later weary residents are still waiting for help.
The search for assistance and answers to questions has become a frustrated series of calls and requests to town, county, state and federal agencies, they said.
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"It's the forgotten neighborhood," said Gerard Brown, commissioner of Sanitation District No. 2, which manages trash collection.
On Monday, Brown walked around the 60-home community west of Grand Avenue and north of Atlantic Avenue, posting notices on houses encouraging residents to register with FEMA and telling them that calls to Nassau County have gone unanswered.
"They've got to come down here to meet with us," he said of county officials.
Jeffrey Press, his wife and daughter evacuated their home before Sandy and returned to find sewage sludge, fuel and water in the 1,200-square-foot Cape-style house on Barnes Avenue. He said insurance company representatives told him an inspection won't happen until December. Calls to the county have been fruitless, Press said.
"It is frustrating and nobody wants to take any responsibility," he said. "On a county level, you can't get anybody. They send you to sewer. They send you to health. They send you to DPW."
When Sandy hit, a pipe under Barnes Avenue ruptured, sending raw sewage into the floodwaters in about a three-block area. Storm surges overwhelmed low-lying areas, knocked out power to most of Long Island and inundated the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant in East Rockaway, which serves about 40 percent of Nassau County customers.
Residents along and around Barnes Avenue have cleaned their homes as best they could, but the sewage stench remains inside and out. Their primary concern, many said, is whether it's safe to stay in or return to their homes. They said they've received little guidance.
Town of Hempstead spokesman Mike Deery said when building inspectors have encountered raw sewage in homes, they have referred residents to the Nassau County Department of Health. Exact locations of those homes was not available last night.
Richard Barone, who lives near the end of Barnes Avenue, is staying in a hotel room FEMA pays for, but returns home every day to check on repairs at the house he's owned for 12 years.
"I can't live here," he said. "How can I stay here? Let them condemn."
Most residents have registered with FEMA and some are living in temporary shelters or staying with friends or relatives. But many remain in their houses, preferring to sleep in their second floors despite the stench.
Bloody noses, lightheadedness and nausea are common complaints. "Our throats are raw," said Elizabeth Walsh, who lives on 3rd Place just off Barnes Avenue. "My children have asthma -- that's kicked up."
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Foundation in Washington, D.C., said residents need to take care when they come in contact with sewage. They should wear rubber gloves, good boots, long pants and masks.
Residents who choose to stay at home, should clean out vents and be sure to ventilate living areas. "If you're getting sick, you ought to have your doctor check it out," he said.
Legis. Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin) shares residents' frustration.
"I have exhausted the list of agencies that would have any level of responsibility and I have yet to receive a return call from friend or foe," he said. "This is beyond unacceptable and borders the absurd."
Michael Martino, spokesman for Nassau County's Department of Public Works said questions about cleanup responsibility and costs should be directed to FEMA. The county Commissioner of Health issued advisories about how to clean sewage from a home, but said Hempstead Town decides whether a house should be condemned.
Brian Nevin, spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, said Tuesday night that the county was working to get more federal money to help residents of Baldwin and East Rockaway, where another pipe burst, restore their homes. Scannell yesterday sent a request to Mangano asking for FEMA assistance.
Sewage issues can be the responsibility of the health department and the Department of Environmental Conservation, which oversees wastewater. DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said managing cleanup is the county's responsibility.
More than two weeks after Sandy, county crews have washed neighborhood streets but not private properties.
"The county put the sewage in the houses," Brown said. "The county needs to get it out."