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West Hempstead family loses power of hope

Joseph Cammarata at the house where he lives

Joseph Cammarata at the house where he lives with his parents, both of whom have chronic health problems. The house did not get electricity when others in the neighborhood had power. (Nov. 8, 2012 ) Credit: Judy Cartwright

Day 14 is here.

With luck, electrical power will have been restored to many more of us, including this family in West Hempstead.

Luck hadn't found them by the end of the week. The note from Joe Cammarata started this way:

"I am writing you this email from my car in a parking lot along the Southern State Parkway because it is the only way I have a strong enough cell signal to do so."

I live in West Hempstead with my two disabled parents in a house on a dead end that has been without power since the Monday afternoon of Sandy."

He wrote the email on Day 9, Tuesday.

"All my neighbors have power turned on, heat and electricity . . . We have not heard from, seen, or been able to contact anybody from LIPA to report our outage, and we fear we are slipping through the cracks."

Cammarata explained that his mother has multiple sclerosis and is homebound. His father has had several surgeries; yet another was planned for the week of the storm, and wound up being postponed. And with no power, and no heat, Cammarata fears the potential impact that "almost 2 weeks of fast food, cold leftovers and temperatures around freezing every night" could have on their well-being.

"I am writing to you because I do not know where else to turn. I cannot contact LIPA because I get a busy signal or get hung up on by their automated phone service. We have no storm damage to our house, so FEMA cannot help. The Town of Hempstead says LIPA is the only one to contact but cannot help me do so to get basic information."

Early on, they had hope. Cammarata's mother, Gloria Snyder, said her husband, Scott, had ventured outside when he saw some LIPA workers, who told him "this is a high priority area."

It didn't take long for the hope to fade. "Three days later, everyone else was powered up," Cammarata said of the rest of his street.

Snyder managed to break through LIPA's automation one day to speak with a human. She mentioned her health issues and asked when power would return: "She told me seven to 10 days estimated" and advised her to go to a Red Cross shelter. Snyder considered the response callous. "Physically, I can't get there," she said. "I can't walk."

I visited Thursday. Snyder sat at the dining room table, wrapped in a comforter. "My husband is on worker's comp," she said. "I'm on disability."

"I can't abandon them," Cammarata said.

"Everybody else's response is to find a shelter, but how can I do that with two disabled parents and know they will have the blankets and comfort they need to not be in agonizing pain on a cot?"

In the afternoon light, candles on the table stayed unlit. Extension cords ran to a neighbor's house, providing a power connection for essentials. But still, no heat.

"I just really need some direction or a name of somebody that can get me the answers i desperately need.

Please . . ."

Watchdog turned to LIPA. Here's the response, which didn't specify why the recent return of power left a few houses in the cold: "There was a tremendous amount of damage to the system in the area and they are working their way back to the customers." It said "70 field crew" were in the area and forecast a return to power Saturday.

As of midday Saturday, there was no luck.


Some readers are reporting mixed signals in the storm's aftermath. Here's one:

Commack resident Jennifer Altenburg reports that Huntington initially told her the town would remove two large oak trees that fell in the storm.

The trees were on the town right of way near the street, she said. One was so tall that, when it fell toward her property from across the street, it landed not only on her yard but also on her house.

Town crews sawed up the tree trunk to clear the street and pushed the remains to the sides. Days later she called the town again and was told removal would be her responsibility: She should hire a tree service, then submit a claim through her home insurance policy.

She told Watchdog removal would cost $4,500. That's not the kind of spare change most of us have available.

We asked the town about the apparent change of heart.

Spokesman A.J. Carter said the town "encourages homeowners to first use their insurance company as an option" -- that is, to submit a claim under the homeowner's policy for the cost of the removal.

It appears the town hasn't ruled out removing the tree: A "protocol for working with the homeowner to deal with the tree removal" is being developed, Carter said. Presumably it would address issues including whether the tree is actually a town tree.

To help make that case, these words appeared in Day-Glo orange on the base of the trunk late Friday: Property Town of Huntington.

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