By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As electricity returns to Lower Manhattan in the wake of Sandy, residents in some of the neighborhoods of New York City hardest hit by the giant storm are complaining that their plight is being overlooked.
In many outlying areas of the city, thousands of people are going to have to wait up to nine days, and in some cases even longer, for electricity to be restored to their homes. Some have lost their houses altogether to floods or fire and others are dealing with heavy water damage. The lines at the few gas stations that have fuel to sell stretch around the block and security is an increasing concern.
In some neighborhoods the destruction is huge. The community of Broad Channel, Queens, a narrow island-like neighborhood in Jamaica Bay, has been hit particularly hard.
One house has been knocked completely off its foundations, the insides of many others have been gutted and are uninhabitable. Much of the damage was caused by a powerful surge of water that brought floods of more than five feet.
Throughout the neighborhood, residents, city workers and volunteers on Friday hacked at soggy drywall, hauled piles of broken furniture and waterlogged belongings out of the houses, and cleared debris from the streets. The main thoroughfare, Cross Bay Boulevard, was jammed with tow trucks, bulldozers and other vehicles moving trash from the neighborhood or bound for nearby Rockaway Beach, another area where many homes have been destroyed.
But while the images were as grim as any being broadcast widely from places like the Jersey Shore, some people complained that they were getting very little attention from the authorities or the media.
"We have nobody down here with video coverage," said Grace Lane, a grandmother who defied evacuation orders and rode out the storm in her second story bedroom as water rushed through the first floor of her house. She and her family are now cleaning up. At night, eight people - Lane, her husband, their two daughters, their husbands and her two grandchildren, have been lining up to sleep on air mattresses on the floor of the upstairs bedroom, now the last usable room in the house.
"At least my children are OK," she said.
Volunteers, including local firefighters and members of the American Legion, were bringing in food and water, but everyone was running low on gasoline. Ruined cars with fogged-up windows lined the streets, waiting to be picked up one by one by tow trucks and hauled away.
Nearby, Timmy Nix, a young man who grew up in the tight-knit community, hauled soggy insulation out through his front door. His friend, Nolan Adams, was helping, too. Nix's house not only flooded; it was swamped with oil when a tank outside collapsed. The fumes were powerful; the floor inside was slick and muddy.
Adams lives in Brooklyn and takes Nix back to his house each night to sleep. The interior of Nix's one-story house has been wiped out.
WORRIED ABOUT SAFETY
In a sign of the security concerns in the neighborhood, one garage full of debris and ruined furniture stood open with a sign next to it reading: "LOOTERS WILL BE CRUCIFIED - GOD HELP YOU."
Security was also on the minds of residents in Howard Beach, a Queens neighborhood on the west edge of Jamaica bay that also flooded. There, water rushed through the streets, toppling huge trees and swamping basements. It was not in an evacuation zone so most residents stayed and their cars were ruined. As they worked to clean up, they swapped rumors of break-ins in the neighborhood.
Monsignor Alfred LoPinto, the pastor at St. Helen's Church in Howard Beach, said his parishioners, who were also facing a long wait for electricity to be restored, were fearful. "I'm just telling them to hang on," he said.
The National Guard could be seen in Howard Beach for a day or two after the storm, but they had departed. That added to the sense of isolation among residents.
LoPinto said there was concern that resources had been diverted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to prepare for the city's marathon on Sunday. He was speaking before the announcement late on Friday that the race was canceled because it had become so divisive.
But there were bright spots: Neighbors in Howard Beach were helping each other arrange to have water pumped from their basements and trading tips on insurance and emergency aid.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens who never lost power were venturing into Howard Beach to offer their help.
And in Broad Channel, volunteers from a Sikh temple in another part of Queens had set up a table in the center of the neighborhood and were handing out free food: curried beans and rice and hot, sweet Indian tea with milk in it.
A man approached them and asked if he could take their picture. The Sikhs obliged. They stood beside their wooden sign advertising the free food and smiled. "I'm going to have this picture," the man said, "so I can show everybody how good you are."
(Reporting By Emily Flitter; Editing by Martin Howell, Bernard Orr)