The View From Staten Island


The Forgotten Borough gets walloped by Hurricane Sandy, but for some, the post-storm mood is more neighborly than despairing.

Staten Islanders charged their cellphones using a power outlet at
7-Eleven – the only store with electricity in Sunnyside. CREDIT: Izabela Rutkowski

Staten Island is often called New York’s “forgotten borough,” and Hurricane Sandy made sure it lived up to that status by forcing the island’s isolation. Ferry service to the island has been shut since Monday evening, and the three bridges that link it to the mainland closed down for almost 24 hours, before traffic was allowed again on Tuesday afternoon.

For many who live on Staten Island, the post-storm conditions were as bad – and the scenes as dramatic – as just about anywhere in New York. Huge trees blocked the streets and knocked down power lines, spreading fear that it might be weeks before electricity is restored to some 80,000 Staten Islanders who lost power in the storm. As of Wednesday morning most of the island remained without water and power.

And yet, walking down the streets of Sunnyside in the first post-storm hours, there was little despair – and more than a little neighborliness. People gathered around each other’s cars to listen to the radio. They shared ice from their refrigerators. And when electricity finally came back on Victory Boulevard Tuesday evening, someone set up an unofficial cell phone charging station, on top of a garbage bin outside a 7-Eleven store. And it was all for free.

“It reminds me of 9/11,” said Jerry Carlo, 64, who stood with his neighbors in front of his house on Labau Avenue on Tuesday evening. “We have no way of communication. My phone is not working. There is no Internet, no newspaper.”

Going out on the street to talk, as Carlo did with his neighbors, seemed to bring a sense of relief for many islanders.

“I thought it was a train coming through here,” Carlo said to his neighbor while pointing at his house, which was missing a fragment of vinyl siding stripped away in the storm. “I thought my house was going down. I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Sunnyside suffered less than Staten Island’s coastal neighborhoods, where at least five people died in the storm and many homes were washed away or inundated by floodwaters.

Price Breville’s Sunnyside home was left intact, but total in the dark Tuesday night, when he went out for a walk on Victory Boulevard, the neighborhood’s main street. When he spotted working traffic lights, “I felt so relieved,” he said. Breville ran home, grabbed a phone charger and returned to Victory  Boulevard in search of an open store that would allow him to charge his iPhone.

Breville connected his phone to a power outlet inside a 7-Eleven store. Soon, others spotted him, and soon after that, there was a line of power-hungry islanders. Breville became an unofficial manager of the charging station. As the word went out, the line grew. Someone brought a power strip to enable several phones to charge at once, but the waiting time to plug in was still about an hour.

At least 80,000 Staten Islanders are without power due to down power lines. It may take weeks before electricity would be restored.

“It’s like a zombie apocalypse here,” said Daniel Brown, 36, a project manager who charged his phone, then stayed to talk to his new friends at the 7-Eleven. Though his battery was full, Brown said he still had no cellphone service and nothing to do at home.

“This is easily the worst I ever seen,” he said while sitting on a makeshift stool fashioned from two boxes of Blue Moon beer.

Across from the 7-Eleven, cars lined up for two blocks outside a gas station. And a couple of dozen people formed a line on foot, each waiting to get fuel for generators that could temporarily power their homes.

“I think it’s the only gas station with power,” said 23-year old Tom Walsh, who visited six other closed stations before finding the one on Victory Boulevard.

By Tuesday evening, Carlo found a neighbor willing to fix his siding and looked up a phone number for Staten Island’s only business that repairs TV antennas. But he couldn’t call the repair shop, since his phone was still silent.

“I am sick of sitting in the darkness,” he said. “I want to go to the movies!”


Leave a Reply