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."