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Fire Island one of hardest hit by Sandy

First responders, officials and residents survey the damage left by superstorm Sandy, which may include the destruction of 30 to 40 houses and damages to more than 80 homes on Fire Island. Videojournalist: Arnold Miller (Oct. 31, 2012)

On Fire Island, one of the Long Island communities hardest hit by superstorm Sandy, piles of wood and rubble were all that remained where several houses once stood. The scent of seaside air was replaced by the stench of fuel from shattered oil tanks, and piers where beachgoers once reveled were washed out to sea.

"Fire Island is changed forever," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Wednesday at a news conference.

It may be two or three weeks until Fire Island residents are allowed to return to check out their homes, said Ian Levine, first assistant fire chief of Ocean Beach, but homeowners won't be allowed to stay.

Levine said the town will meet at 401 Main St. in Islip within a week to give Fire Island homeowners information and take questions.

What's left of the Ocean Beach ferry terminal and marina is a wooden wreckage.

Some houses on the bay have begun to sag, their sodden structures buckling. The marina dock is underwater in places.

The Ocean Beach police department, right next to the ferry terminal, took on about 2 feet of water and was abandoned during the storm surge, said police chief George Hesse.

Debris and water marks across the facades of buildings show how high the flooding got during Sandy's storm surge -- up to 3 feet in some buildings, and chest high during the height of the storm in Ocean Beach's downtown streets.

Levine said about 30 to 40 houses across Fire Island were destroyed -- many of them in Ocean Beach, one of two villages on the island.

"A couple houses were knocked off their foundations and actually knocked into other houses, you could consider those totals," Hesse said. "There are many houses the ocean just went right through."

The newer homes, which officials say were built to more strict FEMA standards that regulate elevation in the event of flooding, fared well -- some of the older and lower houses took the brunt of the flooding.

Closer to the ocean, the damage is more dramatic. One Ocean Beach officer estimated seven of 10 boardwalks that were built over the dunes have been destroyed. The dunes, which usually offer protection from the ocean, have been wiped out, Hesse said.

Despite the mandatory evacuation, several die-hard residents stayed -- there are still about 46 residents in Ocean Beach, Hesse said. First responders couldn't leave -- and wouldn't, he said, adding that this is a tight-knit community.

Barbara Geldermann, 57, a year-round resident, rode out the storm in one of the newer houses. During the storm, she said, she and her husband were never afraid. "I knew the house was good, ya know?" she said.

But Amado Vasquez, head chef at the Castaway restaurant, who lives here during the summer, stayed on the second floor of a house downtown during the storm."I'll never do it again," he said.

Fire Island's coastal landscape was not the only place where Sandy's trail of destruction left behind flooded roads and houses caked in sand Wednesday.

Debris in Mastic Beach

The water that menaced blocks of Mastic Beach had largely receded Wednesday, and while debris still littered the streets, lights and TVs were visible in some homes.

Brendan Marone and his cousin Joseph Pascale were chopping the three fallen trees at their home on Locust Drive, where 18 inches of water had filled the yard during the storm.

"We just got our lights back on," Marone said, gesturing to a radio blaring music.

About two more cycles of high tides still posed a problem for some two dozen of the most vulnerable houses on the bay, Mayor Bill Biondi said.

Another problem was a private marina that had dry-docked 30 or 40 boats was destroyed by the storm resulting in marina boats "all over the village, in the woods," Biondi said.

Problems on Dune Road

Elegant houses painted in pastel colors were splattered with brownish-orange sand on the western end of Dune Road in West Hampton Dunes Village.

Residents were not allowed on Westhampton Beach's portion of Dune Road yesterday -- a restriction that will likely continue today -- said village clerk Becky Molinaro.

A fallen utility pole, a long wooden block and an expanse of floodwater about 3 inches deep near the Quogue Village line, were the only signs along the Westhampton Beach stretch of Dune Road that Sandy had blown through.

Along the road's entire stretch, which runs through three villages and two towns, there is one breach at its western end and more than 10 washovers elsewhere, officials said.

'Shocked' in Island Park

Sandy crippled Island Park, where the ruined belongings of homes lined nearly every block.

Many of the commercial centers in the village and nearby Barnum Island were closed, but the parking lots were half full with work crews bailing out flooded buildings and discarding unsalvageable merchandise.

In residential neighborhoods, residents were hard at work disposing of destroyed furniture and assessing damage. Some streets were littered with furniture and carpets, an attempt by homeowners to avoid growing mold.

On Marion Place, Carol Sobel and her family were tossing out couches, chairs and pieces of their home's interior, which they said totaled more than $300,000 in damages. The Sobels' home is located a few yards from Island Park Habor and had 4 feet of flooding.

"We've lived here 43 years and the most the water has ever come up is the beginning of our lawn," Sobel said. "We came here absolutely shocked."

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