Superstorm Sandy's Rockland victims face challenging holiday

Franco Bongiardina shows the damage to his home

Franco Bongiardina shows the damage to his home on Beach Road in Stony Point. Properties are in various phases of recovery in Stony Point in the areas most affected by Hurricane Sandy. (Dec. 22, 2012) (Credit: Xavier Mascarenas)

Many Rockland County residents won't be going home for the holidays this year, as families continue to wait and see if their houses -- deemed "uninhabitable" after Hurricane Sandy -- can ever again be home.

In Stony Point, more than a dozen homes along Hudson River Beach and River Roads are adorned with yellow warning signs:

"DANGER: This structure is declared unsafe for human occupancy or use," the signs read.


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Afraid of looters, Ann Cass, 45, stopped by their four-bedroom home on River Road with her son Chris, 16, to check on their belongings. An American flag hung on a piece of plywood at the front of the house where a window once was.

"We already had our pool stolen from us," said Ann Cass, a stay-at-home mom with three children. "You would never think someone would kick you while you're down, but they do."

Cass -- along with her husband Tom, also 45, who grew up in the house -- rented a three-bedroom apartment right after the storm ravaged their two-story home on Oct. 29.

"People who stuck around told us there were waves crashing above the top of our house," Cass said. "It's like a beach up there on the roof. There's sand everywhere."

The two-story deck in the front of the house was completely washed away. Not much was salvageable, Ann Cass said, but she was able to grab a few boxes of Christmas decorations that escaped unscathed.

"I have a bunch of the ornaments my kids made for me when they were in elementary school," she gushed. "But it's just a very hard time. Every time I come down here I just want to cry. But we're going to make the best of this Christmas and try to forget about it for a day or two. But then on Wednesday, it's right back to reality."

The Casses received $4,000 from FEMA and are now waiting on the insurance money to filter in to begin repairs.

"I love this house and I just can't wait to get back in it," Ann Cass said.

STILL WAITING

Terry Marsico, 59, who lived in a two-bedroom, two bathroom first-floor flat on Beach Road, has been forced to move back in with his ex-wife until his first-floor apartment is fixed.

"I don't think anyone anticipated how violent the waters were going to be," said Marsico, who did not evacuate during the storm. "It all happened very, very fast. The water started coming in and I looked out and saw all the water. I knew we were in trouble."

Marsico, a kindergarten teacher in Engle Cliffs, N.J., grabbed his 14-year-old Cockapoo named Casey, jumped out a side window and made it up to the second floor via an outdoor stairwell up to his cousin's apartment.

"We're alive," Marsico said. "And God does have a sense of humor. Now that I'm living with my ex-wife, we joked with our daughters that they won't have to go to two houses this year for Christmas."

Many residents along the Hudson River are still waiting on inspectors, engineers and insurance adjusters to make final determinations before any work can get started.

A town fire inspector was seen checking a boarded-up home on Beach Road.

"We have to do the inspections and then it's all up to the insurance companies and engineers to come in and do the assessments," said the inspector, who declined to give his name.

In Piermont, Fire Chief Daniel Goswick, 45, used a power drill to make finishing touches on their fireplace Saturday before he and his wife, Candy, were expecting 10 people for a holiday dinner.

"We did all the important things we had to get done but we had to stop the work and do Christmas. We had to do it for the babies," Candy Goswick said about their two granddaughters, 4-year-old Addison and 2-year-old Aaliyah.

CHRISTMAS IS GONE

Down the street at the Young residence, an inspector from Wells Fargo Bank was taking pictures at the damage inside, where the drywall was cut five feet high. Each room was visible to the next as the majority of the work hasn't begun. The bank sent the inspector to gather evidence of the damage in order to release a $45,000 advance check that was issued through the National Flood Insurance Program.

"We liquidated a retirement account just to get all the sludge out and get electricity in here," said Janice Young, 57, a retired special-education teacher. "They're not giving us anything; they're stalling and asking for all sorts of paperwork."

The Youngs -- who purchased the home for just under $2 million in 2007 -- said they have spent $50,000 of their own money to get a new water heater and other repairs so they could live on the second floor. They estimate the damage to the home to be more than $200,000.

"All the doors need to be replaced because they won't close. We're losing heat," she said. "After Irene, it was worth half what we paid for it. Now, it's not worth anything."

Water seeped back into the home a few days ago after the heavy rains.

"It's not safe for us to live here. If anyone wants to come in, they can come in, but we have no place else to go."

With tears in her eyes, Young pointed to a three-foot artificial Christmas tree near the stone fireplace.

"That's our Christmas, right there," she said. "All my decorations are gone, everything my kids ever made for me for Christmas is gone. The water just came it, it sloshed everything around and a lot of things just floated away."

Young, along with her husband Peter Young, 62, and their son Zak, 16, will have Christmas Eve dinner at a restaurant this year.

"I love Christmas. I usually cook for a week," Janice Young said. "We're OK, the kids are OK but it's still hard. I like to decorate the whole house but when you're staring at this the whole time, when you're on the phone all day with all these companies it's just so hard."

The people who live in the homes on either side of the Youngs have not yet returned since the storm, she said.

BACK IN BUSINESS

Businesses in Stony Point and Piermont that were washed out are slowly coming back to life.

At Gilligan's on the Hudson, a seafood restaurant on Grassy Point Road, wreaths, icicle lights and red bows were strung about the dining room while Christmas music played in the background Saturday.

Manager Nate Fantoni, 44, said his family has plunked down $50,000 of their own money to fix up the place that's been flooded twice since they purchased it in 2009.

"It's a little slower than it usually is," Fantoni said of business. "There's a lot of people around here that aren't here right now. Some can't go back home and others just picked up and left for good."

The restaurant opened the day after Thanksgiving. The basement was completely flooded and they lost a convection oven, a dough press, and all the floors had to be redone.

"We hope it doesn't happen again," Fantoni said. "But at $20,000 a year for flood insurance it's just not worth it. We love this area and we're from here so we want to stay."

Miguel Dominguez, 55, opened his seven-table Mediterranean bistro O Lar on Piermont Avenue just last Thursday. Next door, the hard-hit Portofino Cafe opened last Friday.

"The town is coming back which is nice. We need to get some positive energy in here," Dominguez said. "We missed six weeks of business and it hurt. Thanksgiving was sad but we're getting back to normal now. But I know so many had it worse than I did. All those people around here, those along the Jersey Shore living in tents. You'll never hear me complain."

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