In New York's Rockaways, battered residents dig out and wait
NEW YORK (Reuters) - It took ironworker Jim Coyne more than a year to replace the hot water heaters and furnaces damaged when Hurricane Irene dumped two feet of water in the basement of his beach-block home in the Rockaways, New York last year.
Last week, within days of his replacing his damaged equipment, the massive storm Sandy brought more floods, sounding like thunder on Coyne's porch and tearing apart his fence with an audible crack.
"The water just kept coming in big waves that covered everything," he said.
Coyne owns and lives in a three-family house just off of Rockaway Beach Boulevard, in a neighborhood of Queens that has seen more than its share of tragedy.
A memorial to an American Airlines jet that killed 265 people when it crashed nearby in 2001 is a few blocks from his home. Breezy Point, an enclave that suffered heavy flooding from Sandy and a fire that destroyed more than 100 homes, is five miles away.
In street after street, house after house, Rockaways residents are trying to cope with tons of sand and a deluge of water that ripped apart fences, turned cars upside down and left homes flooded.
Residents said they had not heard from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, nor have they seen a single representative of the Red Cross or the city.
Insurance adjusters have told some residents it will be 10 days before they can come out to assess claims. Nearly a week after the storm, residents saw the first power company crews walking the block. The crews, while sympathetic, said they had no way to know how long it might be before power could be restored.
Coyne's house is splattered with blobs of muddy sand up to a height of about 14 feet that look as if they've been shot onto the siding.
When volunteers arrived to help the storm victims, they found residents surveying the damage with blank stares. Some were crying. Many had only just started cleaning up.
A local church, St. Francis de Sales, is one of several collecting supplies and directing volunteers to contracting crews, also volunteers, who are helping residents clean up.
"It's like the city, the officials, have forgotten us. Only our neighbors and strangers, volunteers, have been here," said Gregory Piechocki, who lives next door to Coyne. "We don't need food or water, we need a warm place to sleep and some sign that we aren't forgotten."
Piechocki and his wife, along with volunteers and neighbors, spent Sunday trying to pump water out of their flooded basement and move the contents - furniture, tools, family photos and comic books that were once in mint condition - out to the curb.
Down the block, past mounds of sand and upended cars, lay the remains of a boardwalk ripped from its concrete posts and slammed up against buildings.
Piechocki's wife, Dorothy, was a nurse at a nearby nursing home. Patients were evacuated before the storm hit. The home has since been deemed unlivable. "I've lost my job now, too," she said.
As residents cleared up, piles of trash built up in front of homes and people speculated about when garbage trucks might arrive to collect the remnants of their flooded homes. The trucks drive by the end of the block regularly, on their way to unload debris from other homes in a parking lot that has become a makeshift dump. So far, none has come down their street.
"Maybe tomorrow," said Dorothy Piechocki.
(Editing by Arlene Getz and Christopher Wilson)
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