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Staten Island garbage, frustrations mount

A person on Colony Street in Staten Island

A person on Colony Street in Staten Island is overwhelmed by the extent of the damage to the neighborhood of Midland Beach caused by a tidal surge during superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Mountains of garbage piled up Sunday on storm-ravaged Staten Island as volunteers sought out victims to help, and frustration mounted among those still with no power and only sporadic disaster assistance.

"Until they put the tag on the house, my hands are tied," said John Prisinzano, 64, who has been waiting since Tuesday for officials to examine his storm-damaged home on the island's east coast.

Floodwaters snapped his above-ground pool to pieces and tossed his deck some 50 feet across his yard. By Sunday afternoon, the walls on Prisinzano's ground floor were beginning to crumble. But before beginning the process of gutting the building or demolishing it, he wanted an assessment from FEMA.

"Just tell me what to do so I can make an intelligent decision," he said.

Prisinzano was like other Staten Islanders hard hit by superstorm Sandy: frustrated, angry and facing a herculean cleanup and recovery effort.

Volunteers, including hundreds of athletes in town for the since-canceled New York City Marathon, made their way to Staten Island Sunday, staffing supply stations and going door to door distributing chili, bagels, hot dogs and water.

Some volunteers crossed into the outer borough to help their city neighbors, feeling fortunate they were spared the brunt of Sandy.

Esther Hamori, 41, of Manhattan, was among them. She said she came simply looking to lend a hand.

"I woke up and Googled 'volunteer Staten Island,' " Hamori said, adding that she'd been "embarrassed" by how comfortable she'd been at her home on the Upper West Side.

While the floodwaters from the storm have receded, the damage Sandy wrought was still painfully visible Sunday in the form of 8-foot-tall heaps of trash bags and furniture laid out on sidewalks.

Frank Troise Jr., a city sanitation worker, estimated that he had hauled 80,000 pounds of garbage to the Staten Island Transfer in the days since the storm.

"It's never-ending," he said.

Residents who miraculously were unaffected by the storm pitched in too, like Mark Hewitt, 59. The floodwaters had reached to within a block of Hewitt's home in Grant City, but spared it, he said.

So Sunday, he and his wife set up a table on a roadside in Midland Beach with trays of bratwurst, macaroni and cheese, and chicken, warmed by Sterno cans.

"I cooked what was in my freezer and refrigerator," said Darlene Hewitt, 54. "It's a mixture of a lot of things, but it's hot."

Other relief efforts in the area included a massive supply station staffed by the National Guard, officials from the city's Office of Emergency Management and the American Red Cross, where residents could pick up bottled water, food and clothes.

While some Staten Islanders said their immediate needs were being met, they were also concerned about the challenges in the days ahead. Standing outside his basement apartment next to a pile of his sodden belongings, Jason Pablo, 30, said he was worried about getting to and from his job as a nurse at a Manhattan hospital this week.

"I drive to work," he said. "The whole gas situation is starting to make me a little paranoid right now."

Others were worried about another storm forecast to blow into the region later this week, which, adding insult to injury, could even bring snow.

"What more could God give us?" asked Joan Brodick, 60.

Sandy destroyed Brodick's car, so she said that even if she wanted to leave her home in Midland Beach for higher ground, she's stuck.

But even as she spoke, police could be seen investigating allegations of looting at a nearby house, and Brodick said she didn't trust her neighborhood enough to leave her remaining belongings unguarded.

"I can't leave. I'm afraid whatever I got, they'll take it," she said.

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