In Sandy-hit areas, with recovery come gawkers

Richie Bain throws household belongings into a garbage pile while helping a friend clean his flood-damaged home on November 7, 2012 in Staten Island, N.Y. John Moore/Getty Images

NEW YORK Garbage trucks, hulking military vehicles and mud-caked cars move slowly through a Staten Island waterfront neighborhood still reeling from Superstorm Sandy's storm surge.

Then comes an outlier: a spotless SUV with three passengers peering out windows at a mangled home choked with sea grass.

Residents recognize the occupants right away. They're "disaster tourists," people drawn to the scene of a tragedy to glimpse the pictures they've seen on television come to life.

Two weeks after the superstorm socked the region, cleanup continues in New York and New Jersey, which bore the brunt of the destruction. At its peak, the storm knocked out power to 8.5 million in 10 states, and some during a later nor'easter. In the New York-New Jersey area, about 81,000 utility customers in New York and New Jersey - most of them on Long Island - remained without power Monday morning.

But the storm didn't just bring darkness and despair; it also brought the gawkers.

"It's a little annoying," said Chris Nasella, who paused as he finished cleaning up a home reduced to a shell on the first floor. "By the same token, I would do it, too. I don't think anyone wouldn't want to look at boats that are picked up and left on the streets. As long as you don't get a kick out of it, it's an amazing thing."

There weren't many tourists in Nasella's neighborhood on Saturday. Cleanup crews had done some extensive work. The neighborhood is only accessible through streets clogged with idled cars in gas lines and traffic made deliberate by still-powerless traffic signals.

But they left an impression.

"The gawking was amazing last week," said Joanne McClenin, whose home was filled with water five feet high on the night Sandy came ashore. "It was kind of offensive as a homeowner, because I felt violated."

On Staten Island's streets, many of the volunteers who carried garbage cans and shovels, or pushed grocery carts filled with supplied carried mobile phones with them and, like Chelsea Chan, paused to take pictures of the damage. Chan said she was taking the pictures for her father who was in another part of New York City and unable to see the damage for himself.

Seaver Avenue on Staten Island was sloppy with mud, sand and curbside mounds of couches, personal photos, mattresses and sodden sheetrock. Mickey Merrell's front porch was askew, and the storm surge nearly knocked a neighbor's house into hers. Across the street a house was washed off its foundation. It was a scene of human misery - and one of New York City's new attractions, just like the construction crane that collapsed and dangled precariously high above mid-town Manhattan on Oct. 29.

"Sometimes it's like we're at the zoo," Merrell said. "So many people come and stop and stare at this place."

Comments