Anger. Tears. Frustration.
Hundreds of Oceanside residents unleashed a torrent of anguish at the Long Island Power Authority and public officials during an emotional rally Friday outside Oceanside Elementary School on Fulton Avenue regarding perceived inaction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Carrying signs and pointing fingers and shouting incendiary remarks at the few elected officials who spoke—U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) and Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony Santino—residents demanded answers and accountability for what they said was their twelfth day without heat, power or dialogue with their representatives or LIPA.
“We’re the forgotten town,” said Ilene Strobing, who lives on Lawrence Avenue, a street littered with large piles of water-logged furniture and destroyed appliances alongside flooded homes.
Nearly all of Oceanside resembles her block.
“We’re all huddled in our basement to keep warm because it feels like an icebox,” said mother of three, Noeida Gamarra, 43. “Oceanside’s not mentioned. You hear about all the devastation, but you don’t hear the stories in Oceanside.”
Politicians did their best to deflect the furor onto LIPA, who they said also gave them the runaround.
“LIPA is horrific,” Murray told the Press. “They have absolutely abrogated their responsibilities to provide electricity to its ratepayers. They have also abrogated all responsibility in communicating with our residents.
“They exclusively have the power to literally turn on the juice,” she continued. “They exclusively have the answers. They refuse to let us know in the Town of Hempstead so we could convey it to our residents.
“Because quite frankly,” she added, “they change their policies and processes each and every day.”
Murray called LIPA’s lack of communication a “sin.”
She joined a slew of local politicians at a press conference in Bethpage shortly after the protest calling on President Barack Obama to direct more federal resources to end the power outages on Long Island.
More than a dozen residents lamented their situation to the Press, pleading that their voices be heard.
Homeowners go to sleep clutching baseball bats for fear of looters taking the little they have left or raiding their homes, they said. There’s been no garbage pickups since before Hurricane Sandy, said several, their mounds of destroyed possessions now covered in snow from the recent Nor’easter that tore through the area. They were told they could no longer drink their tap water, they added, and that their children could not return to the school they were rallying in front of, officially named Oceanside Elementary School 8.
A car-sized generator powering enormous yellow air tubes snaking into the front entrance of that school hummed loudly in the background of the mid-morning gathering.
To add insult to tremendous injury, said several residents including Bruce Ostrow, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 36 years, LIPA sent them bills recently for service, with added fees and surcharges, which would be multiplied if they don’t pay them expeditiously.
Murray said that the sanitation district responsible for the community’s garbage was “overwhelmed.” She added that Town of Hempstead garbage trucks would assist in the removal process.
Many residents told the Press they were not satisfied with the politicians’ public commiseration, saying it was the very first time since Sandy that they’d seen or even heard from their representatives. They remained skeptical, criticizing the lawmakers as lacking substantive answers.
Ostrow called their words “hot air.” Others questioned why New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano were not in attendance after hearing of the two touring so many other ravaged areas nearby.
“Where’s Cuomo!?” they shouted. “Ed who?” asked Mary Anne Klein, before getting into her rental car, a necessity since hers were destroyed by Sandy’s floodwaters.
Gina Chmielewski, 46, a 20-year resident who also lives on Lawrence Avenue and whose home has been serving as a makeshift bed and breakfast for many Oceanside residents without power since she has a generator, said that the lack of attention by media and public officials has now also jeopardized their safety.
“They’re puncturing the gas tanks on cars around the neighborhood here,” she said. “They’re stealing generators out of people’s yards.”
Dawn Rothfeld, 48, another Oceanside resident, who lost her cars and the first floor of her home to Hurricane Sandy, had just about enough.
“We’re like refugees,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “We’re all fucked.”