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Stories of despair, hope across the Island

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story. 

Marissa Loew, 33, a single mom from Central Islip, said she is feeding her two young sons, ages 2 and 4, with leftover restaurant food given to her by a neighbor.

"We had to make one big dinner last three days," said Loew. "I have three hungry boys. All the food went bad. It's pretty hard because we don't have anyone who can really help us. We're on our own."

She said she has been dressing the boys in layers each night before putting them to bed, "but they still shiver a little."

"You can't live without heat this time of year." Loew added. "That's the worst thing about the storm -- being cold. And when you're hungry on top of that, it leads to a lot of crying."

DIX HILLS/Family feared 'We were going to die'

At the height of the storm, 100-foot trees came crashing around Dennis and Irene Ballas' Dix Hills home, sending them into a panic.

"The worst . . . was the unnerving feeling that we were going to die," said Dennis Ballas, as he sat in the Commack Barnes & Noble with dozen of others on laptops and smartphones.

"Every boom, every crack, we scrambled," he said.

So the Ballases were naturally grateful they came away unharmed and then found a simple way to celebrate.

Despite lacking the day-to-day comforts that come with electricity, they fired up the grill and treated themselves Wednesday night to a "wonderful dinner" -- wine, candles and laughter included.

And maybe the whole experience will leave good memories and a new appreciation behind, they said.

"It is definitely an eye-opener for us," said Dennis Ballas' 18-year-old daughter, Zena. "I think this devastation will make people have more respect for each other."

FREEPORT/Devastated by flood but teens lifted their spirits

Shakira Bisono stood on her Freeport porch, keeping warm by tossing neighbors' discarded furniture into a portable chimney, where a fire burned.

Her home suffered more than five feet of flooding. But her spirits were high, because a troop of young women from the Freeport High School's Naval JROTC came by to scrub floors and drag out destroyed belongings to the curb of the damaged house, which was left with no heat, hot water or electricity.

"I can't put a price on what they've done," said a grateful Bisono, who lives in the home with her husband, Jose, three children and in-laws Ramona and Rafael.

The kids are now with family in New Jersey, while Bisono and her husband remain at the Freeport house.

The couple is waiting for an inspector to assess the structural damage to the house, which could determine whether they leave or stay, she said.

"My husband doesn't want to go anywhere. I disagree," she said. "But it's his childhood home."

RONKONKOMA/Searching for gas -- and for a job, too

As if job interviews aren't distressing enough on their own, Ronkonkoma resident Monica Hadnagy had to deal with an empty fuel tank before she met a potential employer yesterday.

She seemed hopeful when she pulled into the Gulf Express gas station in Lake Ronkonkoma.

But her expression changed quickly when she saw the signs on the pumps, with "No Gas" scribbled in blue.

Hadnagy said she had been searching for gas since Wednesday -- having visited seven stations before -- desperate because she needed to get to the interview.

"Getting around is just a little frustrating," she said.

The interview was for a medical billing job and had been postponed several times since Friday because of Sandy.

Hadnagy, a single mom with three kids who has been unemployed for about two weeks, needed to drive her silver Ford Escape all the way to Riverhead for the interview.

About an hour and a half later, her luck changed. She found gas at the BP station at Portion and Patchogue roads.

She was smiling as she drove off. And she made the interview.

COPIAGUE/Accepting situation and dealing with it

Anthony Mirabile, 41, of Copiague, an iron worker in lower Manhattan, sums up life after Sandy: "It is what it is."

Mirabile, his wife, and their children, 20 and 17, still have no power, despite his frantic attempts to get a temporary fix.

"I went to every Home Depot and Lowes I could find and every time I just missed getting a generator," he said.

Instead the family is relying on camping equipment, such as a small gas stove to heat up soup. "Lots and lots of soup," he said.

They're also playing board games and cards together.

"We're dealing with it the best we can," he said. "I know I'm extremely fortunate."

EAST ISLIP/No train, iffy bus? She takes to her bike

As Amanda Vollaro pedaled her blue mountain bike along Connetquot Avenue in East Islip, she steered with her right hand and reached for a small container of Pringles potato chips with her left, popping one into her mouth.

She was about halfway through her new commute to the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip, which now has her riding her bike and taking two different buses.

Since Sandy hit, and eviscerated the region's public transportation network, she's taken to riding a bike to her temp job as a legal processor.

It's taking her double the time it took when she'd hop on the Long Island Rail Road from Mastic-Shirley to Great River, and then take the number 33 bus to the courthouse.

"Because of the iffy bus situation and the LIRR isn't running at all in my area, my commute is kaput," said the Mastic Beach resident.

All the bike-riding is taking a toll, she said.

"It's a slog," she said. "I'm having to hoof it really. I'm 48 years old."

MASSAPEQUA/Mom, power hungry kids share generator

Cindy Hogan has been in a competition for electricity with five tech-savvy, school-age children -- all vying for one, small source of power from a generator they share with neighbors.

"They plug in their cellphones, use them for a little while and play games, then we unplug it to use a lamp or a toaster. Then they get to plug in again and so on," said Hogan, 40, of Massapequa, who was still without power last night. "I can't tell you the last time I've watched television. I couldn't tell you anything that's going on beyond my little bubble."

PORT WASHINGTON/Retirement home becomes an oasis

There is one place, it appears, where Sandy never hit.

Where a woman jogs on the treadmill, a child reads her iPad and grandchildren play Ping-Pong.

The Amsterdam at Harborside, a senior retirement community in Port Washington, seems to have been spared the effects of the storm, thanks to its mighty generators.

The guests milling about yesterday weren't seniors, even though the home's 185 residents have to be at least 62 years old to live there.

In the last three days, said center marketing director Mary Donovan, more than 100 people have sought comfort -- and, in some cases, residency -- in the homes of their parents, friends, or grandparents.

"It gives us a base to feel secure," said Deborah Hershowitz, 53, of Brookville. Her home had no power and no heat, so she and her husband were at her father-in-law's facility.

Gail Horn of Roslyn spent the afternoon with her mother, a resident. "I'm so happy to have a place to go," she said.

But she stops short of asking to stay the night. Her needs, "laundry and a shower," are met.

Says her mother, Lydia Van Grover: "I want her to stay."

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources.  In this story, Newsday could not locate: Marissa Loew. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission.  If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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