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For Some Sandy Victims, Their Car Is All That's Left


Thousands of people had their lives and homes upended following Hurricane Sandy. One of them is Stephen Drimalas. He lives alone in a small house in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island. That's a neighborhood that was submerged under eight feet of water.

WNYC's Jim O'Grady met Drimalas as he and his neighbors went through their damaged homes, cleaning up and salvaging what they could.

JIM O'GRADY, BYLINE: I came on Drimalas outside his house on Buel Avenue, as a couple of Good Samaritans with supplies asked what he needed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Toothbrush, anything like that?

STEPHEN DRIMALAS: A toothbrush I can use.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah, all right.

O'GRADY: Drimalas is 46 and works for the city Department of Transportation. He installs signs and Muni-Meters. Seven years ago, he moved from Brooklyn to this neighborhood on Staten Island's east shore because, he says, it was cheap and across the street from the beach. He knew flooding was a possibility. So a year ago, he built a new foundation and raised his house by four feet. The night Sandy hit, he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and check on conditions.

DRIMALAS: As soon as I opened the door, the water started pouring down. I shut the door, locked the door, got to my car, the water was up to my shin. Another minute or two and I wasn't getting out.

O'GRADY: Really?

DRIMALAS: Mm-hmm. That's how fast it came in.

O'GRADY: Drimalas fled with the clothes on his back and some papers he managed to grab. Everything else was destroyed, including a set of appliances he'd bought at the end of a yearlong renovation. He escaped but his neighbor, 89-year-old Ella Norris, did not.

DRIMALAS: She lived with her daughter, here on Buel, and they got trapped in the house. Her daughter survived. And she's now in the funeral home. They're having a service for her right now as we speak.

O'GRADY: Drimalas stands in his gutted, muddy house and recalls that when he returned, he came on an accidental stroke of luck.

DRIMALAS: I did my laundry the night before. I put it on my bed because I was too lazy to put it away. And after the storm, my bed was floating in the water. My clothes were still on top of it. I came back the next day after the storm, I pulled all the clothes off my bed. They were all dry. Can you believe it?

O'GRADY: So you waded into the water in your house and you pulled your dry clothes off of your floating bed.


O'GRADY: Since the storm, Drimalas has been piling up garbage on the street and digging out from the mud. On nights when a friend can't put him up, he sleeps in his car. Drimalas is fighting for time and money. He's gutting his home down to the studs, and bleaching it, to outrace a fast-blooming mold.

He says his insurance company has already lost his paperwork. So he's filing it again. In the meantime, FEMA sent him $2,500 to find temporary housing. That'll pay for less than two months' rent in Staten Island, or he could save it and keep sleeping in his car. For NPR, I'm Jim O'Grady in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim O'Grady
Jim O'Grady is a contributor to NPR's Planet Money podcast.
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