UPDATED-Bronx starts digging out from Hurricane Sandy

Even with thousands still in the dark, the Bronx began digging out from Hurricane Sandy.

One of the worst storms ever to clobber the borough toppled trees, power lines and signs, flung anything not nailed down around, and flooded streets, homes and subway stations.

The devastation has left tens of thousands without power, leaving businesses like gas stations unable to do business.

Thousands of downed trees still stand in the way for Con Ed crews, who need to clear them before restringing downed power lines.

But from Port Morris in the south Bronx to residential Country Club and hard hit Harding Park and City Island in the northeast, residents were rolling up their sleeves for the cleanup phase of Hurricane Sandy.

Off the shores of Harding Park, a tight-knit community known as Little Puerto Rico, residents hooked up shop vacs and swept debris from their drenched homes. Among the most impacted was Joanne Pheat, a Harding Park homeowner since 1968.

“I never seen anything like this,” she said.

She came back from her daughter’s home to find “devastation” inside her one-story bungalow at Underhill and Q Street on the tip of Long Island Sound overlooking Riker’s Island. Books and pictures of loved ones were strewn about in sodden ruin. In her backyard, floodwaters ripped her shed open, exposing a swell of belongings. She simply sat on her couch, overwhelmed. Thankfully she had homeowners insurance.

As for cleaning up, “I gotta get people to help me,” said her daughter Susan. “ I can’t do this all by myself.”

In nearby Country Club, parents and staff at Villa Maria Academy were shocked to see the recently renovated track and field ravaged by flood waters from nearby Long Island Sound that rippled the asphalt bed, one year after Hurricane Irene took the track out of commission.

“It was a war zone,” said Albert Longhitano of Country Club, a parent volunteering to clean a portion of the field.

A large wooden dock from neighboring Westchester Country Club Inc. drifted onto the stately campus.

“A jet ski washed up,” said VMA gym teacher Michael Bernard, disappointed at the wreckage of the track. It took $20,000 to fix from Hurricane Irene, with the money raised by students at the Catholic school collecting pledges.

“I feel sad for the kids because they were so excited to raise the money,” said Bernard. “We use this track every single day.”

Joining Bernard was Community Board 10 chairman John Marano, a Country Club resident and retired cop and firefighter, who drove around the neighborhood with a chainsaw in the back of his truck “in case anyone needs help.”

Marano and Bernard agreed the superstorm was worse than Hurricane Irene.

On Clarence Avenue several blocks down, private clubs began their cleanup efforts, with a dozen volunteers at the Manhem Club pushing brooms and loading wet garbage onto trash bags. The club lost its pier and a third of the locker room.

“We just rebuilt that pier in 2010 after the nor’easter,” said Roy Watson, club president, who predicted the cleanup will take weeks. “Through the spirit of volunteerism we’ll rebuild.”

He hoped the Federal Emergency Management Agency will allocate funds to the area clubs, which he considers to be the “backbone of the neighborhood.”

Help can be found at disasterassistance.gov where anyone affected can apply for FEMA funds.

Manhem’s pier drifted next door to the D.A. Club, where president Glen Puppa pointed to his own club’s movable pier, now detached from its metal swivel track.

In Soundview, six-year resident David Melendez stood numb as he gazed at an enormous oak tree toppled onto his rented home. “Out of every storm this was the biggest,” said Melendez. The tree came crashing down Tuesday night, seconds after David’s wife stood by the window.

“I told her get away from the window,” said David. “As soon as she walked away…BOOM!”

Luckily, the crash only ripped the awning and took out his electricity. Melendez was even grateful he was able to move his Jeep inside the garage.

With cleanup efforts underway, residents now face days with no power, a mountain of debris and uncounted dollars worth of damage. Several residents were forced to postpone their Halloween plans. But Longhitano wants the city to reconsider the holiday. “The mayor should just make Friday Halloween Day.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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