Flooded Out Staten Islander Preps for Second Blow From Nor'easter

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Stephen Drimalas surveys his flooded-out home in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island. (Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

Staten Islander Stephen Drimalas is one of thousands of New Yorkers who are still without power. He's digging out from Sandy, showing up sporadically to his city job and, as of Wednesday, riding out a nor'easter.

The 46-year-old Drimalas lives alone in a small house in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island, a neighborhood that the storm submerged under eight feet of water. He works for the city Department of Transportation, installing signs and Muni meters. Seven years ago, he moved from Brooklyn to this modest beachfront neighborhood on Staten Island's east shore because it was cheap, beautiful and near the water.

He knew flooding was a possibility. So a year ago, he built a new foundation and raised his house by four feet. The night Sandy hit, he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and check on conditions.

"As soon as I opened the door, the water started pouring down," he said. "By the time I got to my car, the water was up to my shin. Another minute or two and I wasn't getting out. That's how fast it came in."

Drimalas fled with the clothes on his back and some papers he managed to grab. Everything else was destroyed, including a set of appliances he'd just loaded into his house at the end of a year-long renovation.

He escaped but his neighbor, 89-year-old Ella Norris, did not. "She lived with her daughter here on Buel," Drimalas said on Monday as he stood outside Ella's house, his neighbors circulating around him as they cleaned and salvaged what they could. "She and her daughter got trapped in the house. Her daughter survived. Ella's in the funeral home right now. They're having a service for her, as we speak."

Drimalas has spent the last ten days piling garbage on the street and digging out from the mud, calling FEMA and trying to contact his insurance company. On nights when a friend can't put him up, he sleeps in his car.

Now comes a nor'easter with snow and slashing rain, high winds and forecasts of flooding. When reached by cell phone, Drimalas described how he was preparing for a second blow.

"I'm getting all the garbage out in case any winds pick up," he said. He added that he was hoping to stay with a friend, before cutting short the call. "I'm working outside," he said. "I gotta go."

Jim O'Grady/WNYC
Drimala's backyard.
Jim O'Grady/WNYC
View from the front door of a home on Staten Island, post-Sandy
Jim O'Grady/WNYC
FEMA sign.
Jim O'Grady/WNYC
Drimalas and the car he used to escape Sandy's rising waters.
Jim O'Grady/WNYC
Drimalas tries to make sense of a FEMA form. He's worried about his insurance company not getting back to him.


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Comments [2]

Ellen from nyc

Great story, Jim.

Carmen, an organization is already in place to help people who need housing. So spread the word: Anyone wishing to offer free housing to people displaced by Hurricane Sandy can sign up at

Nov. 08 2012 12:23 PM
Carmen from Upper East Side

Thank you for covering the personal side of these stories. It matters.

Is there anyone or any organization connected homeless storm victims with New Yorkers willing to host them? We would certainly be willing to help, and I know we are not alone. If not, perhaps WNYC could post a link to listings on its site of those willing to host, and those in need. (I volunteer to help set it up)

We are a family with an available guest room in our apartment on the upper east side. WNYC, please give my email to Mr. Drimalas if he needs a place to stay. Our only caveat is that we cannot take smokers or pets for health reasons.

We extend our very best wishes to Mr. Drimalas and to everyone hurt by the storm.

Nov. 08 2012 08:51 AM

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