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November 2, 2012

A sea of heartache in Staten Island


On Fox Beach Avenue, a bouquet of flowers lay outside the flood-ravaged home of Leonard Montalto, 53. He drowned in his basement after he went to check his water pump.

Neighbors who searched for Montalto the next day broke the basement windows and peered inside. All they could see was inky water and debris. Rescue divers swam in on Wednesday and found the body.

Neighbors said Montalto, a genial U.S. Postal Service worker who delivered the local paper and collected Beanie Babies, had lived in the single-story home since he was a boy. One of his three daughters, Nicole, was with him as the storm approached, but he ordered her to leave in his car shortly after 7 p.m., when the water began to rise.

Later that night, Montalto called his daughter to say it was good she got out. It was the last anyone heard from him.

A neighbor, Sebastian Stankiewicz, said he drove by about 7 p.m. and saw just a few inches of water on the street. By the time he had turned his car around and returned home, about 500 yards away, the water was knee-deep and rising fast. He and his wife were barely able to drive away.

“It was so fast,” said Stankiewicz, who stood in his waterlogged backyard. Sodden clothes hung from a line near muddy toys on the ground.

The sorrow was leavened by tales of survival. A few doors down, Frank Langello rushed up to his attic as the water rose. He carried a cat and four dogs, including a 110-pound Weimaraner. Langello had an inflatable raft but realized it wouldn’t survive the rushing water, especially with nervous animals. So he sat for hours with Doritos and bottles of water and waited.

Finally, well after midnight, a neighbor paddled over in a metal fishing boat that he had found floating nearby. Leaving the cat, Langello jumped in with the dogs. Neighbors who had been trapped in other homes climbed in as well, and they rowed themselves to higher ground in the rain and wind. Langello returned the next day to find the cat unscathed.

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