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Staten Island 'Wiped Out' As Storm Relief Trickles In


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Five days after Superstorm Sandy surged ashore, survivors are beginning to rebuild and services are slowly being restored. The shortage of fuel continues to be a major problem, with people lined up for hours in their cars, often pushing them into the station. President Obama has ordered the U.S. military to send 24 million gallons of gasoline and diesel to the affected areas. But there are real glimmers of hope, too. Power is beginning to be restored in New York, and parts of Manhattan flickered on overnight. But conditions in Staten Island are still bad. The least populated of New York's boroughs was the hardest hit, and suffered the most casualties. Fifty thousand homes still lack power, and thousands of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed. NPR's Jim Zarroli was in Staten Island yesterday and joins us. Jim, thanks for being with us.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: What's the island look like?

ZARROLI: Well, for comparison purposes, I mean, you know, I remember being in Mississippi after Katrina. I mean, this is nothing like that. That was utter devastation. But it is - you know, there's very, very serious damage. I visited a place where there had been a marina on the eastern side of the island. The water went up and then it came down, and all the boats were just scattered for blocks. They're in parking lots of restaurants, they're in people's yards. You see whole streets filled with houses that have become, you know, inhabitable. I spoke to a Red Cross volunteer named Ellen Abate, and she's been going around the island. And I asked her about the damage that she's seen.

ELLEN ABATE: From houses completely gone to water in the basements, and just depends on the area they're in. A lot of areas that never got water got it this time - all the way up Hyland Boulevard, water that never went up there before. Besides that, they've also been hit with trees coming down on their property, so it's bad.

ZARROLI: And that is a good point. I mean, Staten Island has had storms, but the flooding was always kind of manageable. I think people were thinking this would be like that, the others. And that's why some of them, at least, didn't' evacuate when they were supposed to. But, of course, it turned out to be a lot worse than that.

SIMON: Jim, a lot of Staten Island families are notably, as we say, in the blue. They are police and firefighter families. So some of the same people working in emergency assistance are people with homes that have been at risk. How are they holding up since the storm?

ZARROLI: I think it depends on where they are. You know, it's like Manhattan, in that you drive around and some places have power, some don't. And in places where there is no power, you know, it's very tough. If you go down near the water, there are a lot of houses that were flooded. They had, you know, five, six, more feet of water - very dirty, brackish water. So, even though they're, you know, they're standing, but you can't live in them. Maybe they have mold, maybe they because of the boats, they smell like diesel fuel. I spoke with a guy named Kevin Howell, who rented a house near the water. And this is the kind of very typical story that he told me that you hear all over Staten Island.

KEVIN HOWELL: I'm wiped out also. The water came right over the houses. It wiped out all my furniture. Everything's gone. It's a disaster. There's no heat, no hot water, no electric, no nothing.

SIMON: Jim, are there any signs that FEMA, or for that matter, the Red Cross or other agencies are beginning to make much of a dent in the destruction in Staten Island?

ZARROLI: Well, I talked to a woman who was sort of cleaning the waterlogged furniture out of her house and putting it in her yard, which is something you see a lot of. And she said FEMA had been by to see, you know, to basically to do a body count at her house. Other than that, no one had been by. I did - you know, I saw people from FEMA, people from the police, trying to give some help, but it didn't seem like a lot of people actually knew they were there, which, you know, that you're hard to reach if you don't have computers and TVs and cell phones.

SIMON: What's it feel like there now?

ZARROLI: You know, it feels cut off. I ran the New York Marathon two years ago, I was going to run it again this year. Of course, it's been canceled. It starts in Staten Island. And when I was there yesterday, I mean, I went through a lot of the neighborhoods that you pass through to get to the starting line, and I remember thinking just how different it feels. It's much quieter, kind of abandoned. I was thinking how bizarre it would have been to have all these, you know, pumped-up crowds going through these semi-deserted streets. It would have been, you know, eerie.

SIMON: NPR's Jim Zarroli in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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