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November 2, 2012

A sea of heartache in Staten Island

OAKWOOD BEACH, N.Y. _ They were found hugging, a former Marine and his blue-eyed son, buried under the wreckage of the home they had hoped to save.

John “Flip” Filipowicz and 20-year-old John Jr. had defied orders to evacuate as Hurricane Sandy approached Monday, determined to pump water out of their basement. But the massive tidal surge and raging floodwaters crushed the foundation, and a wall of concrete collapsed on them.

Police discovered the pair the next day, their arms wrapped around each other. They lay amid the wreckage of this working-class neighborhood of firemen and cops, postal workers and corrections officers, on the southern lip of Staten Island, the always-forgotten New York City borough that suffered the worst in Sandy’s terrible maw.

“They were hugging, and it breaks my heart to think that Flip was telling John, ‘I can’t save you,’” said their neighbor Sue Somma.

Much of New York is staggering to its feet after the storm, like a giant shaking off an unexpected pummeling. Although hundreds of thousands of people remain without power or working phones, and public transit is still a nightmare, services are slowly coming back in Manhattan, and offices and shops are tentatively reopening their doors. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg even announced that the annual New York City marathon, the world’s largest, will take place as scheduled Sunday.

But the hardest-hit communities, like this one, are struggling with desperate heartache and irreplaceable loss.

At least 19 of the city’s 40 storm-related fatalities were in Staten Island’s evacuation zones, close-knit communities like Oakwood Beach, Midland Beach, South Beach and Tottenville, the same towns that lost so many first responders who rushed to the rescue during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center across the harbor.

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