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A storm-ravaged New York neighborhood struggles to survive

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    The storied New York community of Coney Island was hit hard by superstorm Sandy. ( Chiaramonte)

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    Wanda Feliciano started a relief center to help her neighbors. ( Chiaramonte)

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    The National Guard rumbles up Surf Avenue in New York's Coney Island. ( Chiaramonte)

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    The fierce storm pushed sand all the way up onto the neighborhood's streets. ( Chiaramonte)

After traveling six miles by foot and by bus to bring food home to her five children in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood, Cherry Barnett broke down in tears.

"I've had it,” she said. “I don't want to live here anymore. We can't live like this."

Barnett’s apartment building, called Ocean Towers, was one of thousands in the path of superstorm Sandy, which tore up the Atlantic Coast, devastating homes, flooding basements, wiping out businesses and leaving millions without light or heat. While utility companies, aided by crews from out of state, have slowly gotten power back to much of the region, Barnett and her children endured 10 days in the dark.

The juice finally came back on three days ago, but only one elevator in the three-building complex works. Barnett can get up to her third-floor apartment, but her seven-year-old daughter, confined to a wheelchair, hasn’t been outdoors since the Oct. 29 storm. And there are countless older folks in the building who remain stuck in their apartments, dependent on neighbors and strangers to bring them food.

"A lot of us out here are fighting for our lives.”

- Wanda Feliciano, resident of New York's Coney Island

Down on Surf Avenue, businesses are shuttered, leaving local residents unable to get basic necessities like food, medicine, or even do laundry. Once the sun goes down, residents say it’s too dangerous to venture out anyway.

"It's very hard,” said Mary Edwards, 69, who lives in the complex. “There are no stores here anymore. There's nothing. We can even come out of our apartments at night. We need a curfew on Coney Island."

Next door to Ocean Towers, in the city’s Carey Gardens public housing project, Wanda Feliciano set up a relief center to help neighbors.

"A lot of us out here are fighting for our lives,” said Feliciano, 51. “A lot of people are desperate. They don't know where they are getting their next meal.

"We are fighting amongst ourselves here because we are tired. And we are frustrated."

About 479,400 New York and New Jersey utility customers were still without electricity Friday, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Some 167,000 of those customers are on New York’s hard-hit Long Island, according to the Long Island Power. About 35,000 customers in New York City's boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens were still without power, and ConEd said it was working with the New York City Buildings Department to speed up repairs at those properties.

Bonnie Kirshtein, 66, who lives in Ocean Towers, is handicapped and has been trapped in her home since the storm struck. Not only are the elevators not running, the stairs are strewn with garbage and human waste. She has been unable to go to her job at a court reporting agency in Downtown Brooklyn since the storm and has relied on neighbors and co-workers to deliver food and other items to her.

"I've never lived like this," Kirshtein said. "It's like Coney Island was forgotten about. We are desperate here.

"Monday, I'm trying to go downstairs to go to work, she added. "I'm going to need help getting down but I'm going. I can't take it in here anymore."

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