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Lindenhurst neighborhood hit hard by Sandy

Jackie Dougherty, left, leaves her home in Lindenhurst

Jackie Dougherty, left, leaves her home in Lindenhurst with her friend Ashley Olivieri on a day Long Islanders sifted through their belongings in houses damaged in superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 3, 2012) Credit: Jeremy Bales

At one end of Bayview Avenue West in the Village of Lindenhurst, Joseph Bivona's home of 46 years lost a wall and part of its foundation.

"I can't live there," said Bivona, 79, gesturing at the space where the wall used to be. "I can't even go in."

Near the other end, Angela Coppola's little white bungalow simply vanished -- crushed, a neighbor told her, by a single towering wave last Monday night.

"I miss it there," she said.

Sandy spared few on Long Island's South Shore and hit residents in this neighborhood on the Great South Bay as hard as any. Officials and residents of the village say it could take weeks, maybe months, before they recover.

"The village south of Montauk Highway is in devastation, for the most part," said Lindenhurst Mayor Thomas Brennan late last week on an assessment tour of the area.

Restoration, he warned, will be a "long, drawn-out process" made harder to endure by temperatures already dipping below 40 degrees.

As Raymond Fais, who heads the village's Office of Emergency Management, put it: "For the people here, life as they knew it isn't going to be back for a long time."

When Coppola, 38, who has taken refuge at her sister's home in West Islip, went back to the neighborhood last week she found the doll her brother had given her lying sodden on the Shore Road Park soccer field, hundreds of feet away from where her home had once stood. The pictures she kept of her little nephew were gone. So was the deck on the bay where they used to fish together.

Bivona's daughter, Susan, was trying to round up two terrified, wet cats, Bonnie and Tiger, and find some old family pictures. A bag holding her dad's medicine had dropped into the water when a boat evacuated them Monday night and she worried now that authorities would demolish the house before she could retrieve other essentials. But she was also determined: "Every day, we sort another problem out."

The nearby Knoll Street home Anthony Monteleone, 53, and his wife Angela, 56, moved into 3 1/2 years ago with their two young sons, Vincenzo and Angelo, now smells of molding furniture and wet wood, and parents and children alike have grown tired of a diet of cold cuts. Anthony's boss at the trucking firm where he works is pressuring him to get back on the job but he's reluctant to leave his family alone just now.

Worried about looters

Carole Maguire, 64, and her husband Thomas, 56, sleep in their coats at night on the second floor of their South Seventh Street home while oily water laps underneath. They could stay with a son in Queens who has power, but she's scared that looters might come in their absence. "There's nothing really for them to steal, not anymore, but it's my home," she said.

Officials say a 7.71-foot storm surge here flooded many if not most of 1,600 properties south of the highway. By Thursday afternoon, building inspectors had surveyed 40 of them and red-tagged six as uninhabitable, warning residents that even returning temporarily to retrieve belongings could be dangerous. Fais said he expected that number to multiply in coming days.

There are no estimates yet of damage to private or public property, officials say, because damage so extensive is "uncharted territory for us."

The Chateau La Mer catering hall at the end of South Wellwood Avenue remained closed after water rose 4 feet inside. The village marina next to it will be fenced off, officials said, its 47 boat slips inaccessible anyway. Marina wiring was ruined and a new section of dock, installed after Irene hit last year, had broken free and come to rest in front of the Chateau.

Dozens of vehicles had been left for safe keeping in the Shore Road Park lot, 1,000 feet north of the bay, but less than 200 feet from the canal at Arctic Street.

Some appeared to have floated out of their spots. "People who live here are used to being flooded," Fais said. "They know that when it happens they can take their cars to Shore Road Park. Not this time. It flooded right under them."

The flooding was widespread, officials say, because of the village's proximity to Jones Inlet and because its waterfront neighborhoods are ribboned with canals. It was so damaging in part because many of the houses were not built up to modern code.

"Much of this area was built 75 to 100 years ago," said village administrator Shawn Cullinane. "A lot of these are summer bungalows that were built up and winterized."

Even modern building techniques and materials didn't guarantee immunity, as Paul and Carolyn Dauphin learned when a neighbor's cabin cruiser floated off the bay, over their submerged yard on Bayview Avenue West and through the wall of their garage.

For all the havoc and trauma left by superstorm Sandy, few Lindenhurst residents interviewed over the last week said they would move out of the village permanently because of the storm.

Paul Dauphin, 61, a retired electrician, said it would be hard even if he wanted to: "The housing market out here is shot."

The view outweighs the risk

Some say they are willing to risk more storms. The view alone from Darlene Fantel's South Bay Street home -- bay and barrier beaches in the distance, egrets and piping plovers up close -- was like "winning the poor man's lottery," said Fantel, 48, recently laid off from a job in the pharmaceutical industry.

Coppola, who works at an auto dealership, said she would move back to the neighborhood if she could. "It's my favorite place in the world," she said.

But Mayor Brennan worried that continued storms could drive some away. "You can only get punched in the stomach so many times," he said.

Hundreds of people lined up in a cold wind late last week at a Federal Emergency Management Agency RV behind Bower Elementary School on Montauk Highway to apply for help with damaged homes, lost property and lost jobs, some under the mistaken belief that the agency would provide them with trailers in which to live until their homes are repaired.

Some grew angry after a long wait resulted in little more than a registration number that could have been acquired in an instant online. "I've been waiting for four hours and got very little accomplished," said Sue Brownworth, 36, a veterinary technician whose South Bay street home took on five feet of water during the storm.

Others were grateful for a chance to talk face to face with the agency employees there and, using phones set up outside the RV, with agency specialists.

"Let me know what's going on -- I don't know what to do," said Maguire, 64, an administrator at Dominican Village retirement community in Amityville whose South Seventh Street home had also flooded.

The Maguires had tried for days in vain to get in touch with the company that provided their flood insurance. They ran down their laptop's battery driving around looking for Wi-Fi hot spots.

They and their neighbors had been eating sandwiches and hot dogs. She'd had her first hot wash since the night of the storm just that morning, when her husband put a pot of water over the charcoal grill.

It was information that she wanted now, badly. And when a FEMA employee told her an assessor would get to her in 10 to 14 days, she was grateful.

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