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Far Rockaway, New York (AFP) Nov 30, 2012
A month after historic megastorm Sandy tore through his beachside neighborhood in New York's Rockaways, Gary Hamilton still has no electricity, heating or hot water.
The storm, a confluence of a hurricane and a nor'easter that hit the New York area starting on October 29, killed more than 110 people in the United States and caused an estimated billions of dollars in damage.
When the storm was at its worst, the first floor of Hamilton's home was flooded with more than three feet (a meter) of water. A month later, he could be found ripping out the floor of his still "unlivable" house.
"We lost almost everything," said the 50-year-old.
He works every minute he can on getting it back into shape and is not sleeping much.
Hamilton estimated the process could take six months, saying "we've been promised a lot of help, but we'll see what we get."
But he is happy to be alive -- and said he's not moving anywhere, after 38 years of living in the neighborhood.
"It's nice here," he insisted.
At the house next door, four young Mormon missionaries were pulling out rubble and piling it in the street. They were working on cutting out the walls from a basement that was completely soaked by the storm.
The yard was filled with a giant pile of debris that had once been the family's belongings.
"I haven't stopped since Sandy," said one of the missionaries, Steven Bush, of his volunteer clean-up efforts, though he noted that "many people have left."
Those who remain survive as best they can. With disaster relief assistance, they stay warm with blankets and get light from generators.
A number of rescue centers are still open in the area, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), churches, and the city.
Although the neighborhood has more recently attracted some of New York's younger and more affluent denizens, most of the 130,000 residents made up "one of the poorest communities in America," even before Sandy, said Les Mullings, pastor of the Nazarene Church of Far Rockaway.
"It is improving, gradually," Mullings said of the current situation. "But progress is slow. It is frustrating, very frustrating."
Under normal circumstances, his church gave food and other assistance to around 500 people a week. Lately, it has been helping 2,500 a day.
In front of his church, two trucks distribute hot meals. Inside is a third distribution point. And along the sidewalk a few meters (feet) away, a long line of people, mainly women, wait patiently despite the biting cold in the hopes of filling shopping carts with clothes, blankets and cleaning supplies.
"We get here in the morning at eight o'clock. By 7:30, and the line is already here," sighed the pastor.
-- Tons of rubble --
"People are still without power, still without heat. People are still in shelters, families still away, kids are still out of school. They have to be shifted to other schools. There is no gas," Mullings lamented.
"From this community we have 600 people in shelters."
Carla Gomez came to the church for a blanket and a hot meal. These days, she sleeps at a friend's place.
But that's not a long-term solution.
"I want a place where to live, where to cook," she said. "My house was completely destroyed."
A few miles (kilometers) to the west, bulldozers and tractor-trailers tackle an immense mountain of thousands of tons of rubble, piled on a spot that was, until recently, a beach parking lot.
"It's crazy. But it's better. Before, last week, it was twice that," said Miguel, one of the workers.
On the beach, gutted houses, folded in half, sit behind red signs that warn: "Unsafe area. Do not enter or occupy."
And on Beach Street, curious onlookers creep slowly, hoping to frame the perfect photograph of the sun setting over the devastated landscape.
Through the gaping facade of a destroyed house, a still-made bed, covers carefully pulled up, is clearly visible.
A month has passed since Sandy blew through, but little has changed.
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