Staten Islanders slammed by Sandy welcome Obama visit
The signs of superstorm Sandy are everywhere along Topping Street in Staten Island.
A layer of mud shows where the storm surge raced up the narrow lane of low bungalows. A house that was pushed 10 feet from its foundation showed the storm's power.
But the top of a felled 30-foot spruce trimmed to Christmas-tree size and adorned with seasonal decorations is an emblem of the New Dorp neighborhood's resilience.
Thursday, President Barack Obama took time from a tour of the storm-damaged area to bring Christmas ornaments to the couple who erected the tree and to urge them to hang on.
"He gave me a hug," said Debra Ingenito, 47, who with her husband Joe salvaged the spruce top and lashed it to the fence outside their flooded home. "It really felt very warm and humbling."
It has been more than two weeks since Sandy sent a deadly wall of water from the beach 100 yards from their home through the neighborhood. Since then, neighborhoods along the shoreline have become shattered ghost towns, with no electricity or gas.
Thursday, the president flew to the neighborhood aboard his Marine One helicopter to view the storm's damage and to promise continued federal relief.
Of the two dozen homes on Ingenito's block, only two are occupied. The smell of dust, mold and gasoline hangs in the air. She and her husband depend on charity for food.
"The most traumatic part was to see your whole life dragged down the street," Ingenito said, referring to the piles of photographs, clothing, furniture and other items she was forced to discard and see bulldozed away.
But this is a tenacious neighborhood that has pulled together on its own.
A few blocks from Ingenito's house, Phil Greig, 51, served hot meals at a makeshift soup kitchen set up in a parking lot. Volunteers from Occupy Wall Street huddled around a fire pit playing guitars.
He said he was heartened by the president's decision to tour the community.
"It was great that he came out, got out of his car and spoke to people to show he cares," he said. "But we need help."