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When Hurricane Sandy crashed ashore in October, thousands of people were evacuated from nursing homes, assisted living centers and adult homes. Since then, evacuees have slowly trickled back to the homes that can be repaired.
When one group returned to an adult home in Queens, Fred Mogul of member station WNYC was there to meet them.
FRED MOGUL, BYLINE: The 90-plus evacuees of Belle Harbor Manor expected to be back by late morning, but even the homestretch of their three-and-a-half-month exodus had delays. They arrived in the late afternoon in time for a festive welcome home dinner. The renovations of the Sandy-drenched first floor immediately struck Alex Woods and Bob Rosenberg.
ALEX WOODS: It's a vast improvement for the better.
BOB ROSENBERG: The lobby is beautiful, completely redone. It's really beautiful.
MOGUL: They're sitting in a dining hall with a shiny new linoleum floor and freshly painted walls. Mylar balloons float above each table, and Donna Rubin was one of many smiling people thrilled with the catered meal.
DONNA RUBIN: It was delicious - chicken, potato kugel, little franks in the blanket. That was my favorite.
MOGUL: Adult homes like Belle Harbor Manor serve people who suffer from a range of mental illnesses and physical disabilities, but they're pretty functional and independent. After dinner, residents were allowed to go to their rooms, and complaints quickly began filtering into the hallways.
JAGDESH TRIVEDI: I open the door, and I saw this lock is broken.
MOGUL: Jagdesh Trivedi was one of several people who found drawers and cabinets broken into, possessions rifled through and valuables missing.
TRIVEDI: Shoes are gone, two boxes of shoes. My sunglasses missing. Green card and Social Security card are missing.
MOGUL: Belle Harbor Manor spokesman Jonathan Greenspun says all allegations of theft will be investigated, but he adds, looting was widely reported throughout the area affected by the storm. For Bob Rosenberg, who has cerebral palsy and other long-term health problems, coming home to find people had gone through his papers was a troubling end to a long journey.
ROSENBERG: For four months, I was so anxious to get back, but now, it's like the nightmare is starting all over again.
MOGUL: He and others said it was just the latest in a series of indignities. First, they were told to shelter in place while the whole Rockaway Peninsula of Queens was ordered to leave. Then, two days later, out of safety concerns, they were told to evacuate, which meant sloshing through waist-high water on the facility's first floor. They went to a cavernous shelter and a dirty hotel for six weeks before landing at Creedmoor, a large state psychiatric facility.
Angelo Catanzaro was one of several people who described the place as harrowing.
ANGELO CATANZARO: The bathrooms are filthy in there. A lot of rooms have no heat in there. Nobody should live like that. Five boroughs and they couldn't come up with a better place (unintelligible) that?
MOGUL: One volunteer who worked closely with them says many residents grew increasingly depressed and dysfunctional at Creedmoor. But Maureen Italiano, from the Institute for Community Living which manages the facility, says she heard few complaints from the residents.
MAUREEN ITALIANO: I think that people were comfortably accommodated and worked closely with our case management and support staff in the buildings. At their departure, we shared lots of hugs, kisses. I received many thanks for watching over them.
MOGUL: One resident, Howie Kucine, says after more than three jarring months away, returning to Belle Harbor Manor to find missing possessions is the last straw.
HOWIE KUCINE: I can't stand this city anymore. I've always loved New York, but now, after what just happened...
MOGUL: Another resident, a 93-year-old retired English and Latin teacher, was a little more restrained. Asked if she was glad to be back, she said, I am, but ask me again in two weeks.
For NPR News, I'm Fred Mogul in New York.
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