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Lindenhurst: Nor'easter adds to Sandy woes

Michael LaRocca stokes the fire at his mother

Michael LaRocca stokes the fire at his mother in-law's home on the Lindenhurst waterfront. (Nov. 7, 2012) Credit: Amanda Voisard

Three families were still living on the first block of Lindenhurst's Bayview Avenue West when the nor'easter hit Wednesday night, and two of them were in Joan Ensulo's high ranch.

They had a generator, two bottles of vodka and sandwiches to feed an army but, for the ninth day after Sandy, no grid power, central heat or hot water. The colder it got, the closer everybody moved to the fire in the fireplace.

By 6:30 p.m. the neighbors who had been working on their own homes by day had left, as had the volunteers who'd come by with food, and the storm-altered landscape was black. They were alone.

"It's eerie," said Ensulo, a 62-year-old grandmother disabled by arthritis. "I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone."

Her partner, Joseph Romano, 58, a former mechanic with Stage 4 colon cancer, sat uneasily in an armchair nearby, describing the day's worrisome new symptoms to a hospital resident by cellphone.

Neighbor Kerry Abitabilo-Klein, 36, a teacher, worried this latest storm would make getting to her Seaford school even harder in the morning.

Her husband, Mike Klein, 39, a New York City sanitation worker who'd picked this of all weeks to be on vacation, had his own worries about whether the electrician and the plumber he'd finally gotten hold of would keep their appointments now.

Two successive storms have simplified life for those remaining here, pared away nonessential concerns and tasks that can be put off. Tasks left have largely to do with food and medicine, work and repair.

Some who stayed in this blue-collar neighborhood lacked both resources and options.

The Kleins did not want to stay in Queens with Mike Klein's family or move into a shelter because they wanted to keep their Rhodesian ridgeback dog, Mina, with them and to be on hand for any repairman who might come by.

Ensulo and Romano could have gone to her brother's, elsewhere in Lindenhurst, but that house was already crowded with children and her brother's boss, who had moved his temporarily dislocated business there.

They had a flooded van that wouldn't drive anywhere and little money set aside from the roughly $700 each gets in disability benefits each month. Romano still gets picked up for regular chemotherapy sessions. Ensulo was reluctant to leave her Cinderella dolls, a collection built over decades with money she made cleaning houses. Then there was this house itself.

It has two floors, five bedrooms and a big window looking onto the bay. She inherited it from her mother and has lived there for 22 years. It is the single most precious thing she has ever owned.

"I don't want to leave my house," she said. "It's this inner thing in me. I have no money, no nothing, but to me it's valuable. It's my special thing."

Outside, snow was piling on the ground. Mike Klein watched a DVD on electricity from a generator thrumming in the garage below, and confided that he'd never particularly wanted to live on the waterfront, with all the problems it can bring, but it had been his wife's dream.

She poured screwdrivers. Everybody got a cup with his or her name printed on it in magic marker.

They talked about the pleasure of a hot shower; Ensulo said it was as rare and all-body-overwhelming as winning at Lotto.

They talked about all the people who had helped them, from Lindenhurst teachers to members of the Christian group Crisis Response International, who showed up one day to offer food and labor and counseled Ensulo to love a neighbor with whom she'd had a post-Sandy feud.

The Red Cross had brought food and badly needed baby wipes, for bathing.

In his chair, Romano listed some of the bigwigs he'd met recently when they toured the neighborhood: Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Peter King, Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano and Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer.

"I got to meet people I never thought I'd meet in my life," he said. "They are the ones that make things happen."

They'd asked him what it was like when Sandy came and what it was like to live there now, he said, and he was proud to tell his story. He'd seen the windows wiggle and the walls shake and the parkway lights on the barrier beaches wink out one by one.

"They wanted to hear about the disrepair and the tragedy from someone who was in it," he said. "I had them in the palm of my hand."

Around midnight, as the nor'easter waned, they fell asleep. They awoke at 4 a.m. to the carbon monoxide detector's shriek, and Romano hustled down to the garage to shut off the generator.

Defying the advice of experts who warn never to place generators indoors, he'd put it in the garage rather than outside because it had no lock and he was worried somebody would steal it. The garage door and a window were slightly ajar for ventilation.

It had been noisily but un-noticeably poisoning everybody with its fumes since the winds died down.

The good news the next day was everybody was still alive -- though Ensulo said she had a headache -- and Abitabilo-Klein's school day was canceled.

The bad news was 8 inches of water on the street. It was cold again, 51 degrees in the house with the fire burned to embers and a few inches of snow outside.

There were still walls and flooring and carpets to be ripped out and carried curbside. "This is going to put a little halt on things," Ensulo predicted, referring to the nor'easter.

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