Sandy Aftermath

Deadliest zone: Staten Island reels from devastation; bodies of boys ripped from mom’s arms found

John Makely / NBC News

Little remains of a home on Yetman Avenue in Staten Island where homeowner George Dresch and daughter Angela, 13, perished in Hurricane Sandy. Patricia Dresch is reported to be in critical condition.

By Jeff Black, NBC News

Staten Island, just a ferry ride from Manhattan but often seen as the poor stepchild of the New York metropolis, apparently was the city’s deadliest zone in Superstorm Sandy – accounting for half the human toll.

 On Thursday the bodies of two young boys who were swept away from their mother’s grasp during  the storm surge were recovered, NBC News reported. A missing husband and wife were also found dead Thursday, reported.

That brought the toll on the island to 19, reported. On Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Superstorm Sandy is responsible for the deaths of at least 37 New Yorkers.

At a news briefing Thursday morning, elected officials pleaded for help for Staten Island, a former garbage-dumping site for New York and often the butt of jokes, even for even people who live in New Jersey.

At a press conference, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro says “It’s an absolute disgrace” that the American Red Cross is “nowhere to be found” during his county’s time of intense need in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, especially after collecting “lots and lots of money” from people in his district used for relief efforts elsewhere.

Borough President James Molinaro blasted the Red Cross as an “absolute disgrace” and urged the public to stop giving to the venerable institution.

Asked by NBC News to explain his comment, Molinari said, “because the devastation in Staten Island, the lack of a response.”

“You know, I went to a shelter Monday night after the storm. People were coming in with no socks, with no shoes,” Molinaro said. “They were in desperate need. Their housing was destroyed. They were crying. Where was the Red Cross? Isn’t that their function?”

Indeed, Staten Island, which took a direct blow from Sandy, is a scene of immeasurable misery and utter devastation, with homes obliterated, others off their foundations in addition to widespread flooding.

While looking over the wreckage of his cousin’s house on Thursday, Tom Monigan talked about his cousin George Dresch, who died  in the surge of water with his daughter Angela, 13, on Staten Island. George Dresch’s wife Patricia was reported to be in critical condition at the hospital.

“Not in a million years, did I expect to see this,” Monigan told NBC News. “This is unbelievable, I mean for George to lose his life and his daughter and his wife to be in the condition she’s in it’s a sin, it’s unreal, I can’t believe I’m looking at this. Terrible.”

“You can replace this stuff, but it’s what happens to people,” Monigan said, “it changes their life forever and it’s terrible. People are worried because they don’t have electricity, Jesus, this is the real deal right here.”

Rescue workers who are part of a task force of searchers gathered on Staten Island on Thursday have fanned out with maps to search the hardest hit areas in the city. Large trucks and other equipment with Homeland Security decals began arriving late in the day on Sunday.

The New York Police Department officials said  the boys — 2 and 4 —  were carried away by floodwaters Monday night on Father Capodanno Boulevard. Their mother had spent the night trying to get help, The New York Daily News reported, to no avail.

The mother managed to free the boys from their car seats and tried to hold onto the boys, but the force of the water ripped them from her grasp. She had to swim for her life.

“She was holding onto them, and the waves just kept coming and crashing and they were under,” the boys’ aunt, who was not named, told the Daily News. “It went over their heads … she had them in her arms, and a wave came and swept them out of her arms.”

According to the mother’s sister, the mother had pounded on doors for help during the height of the storm, but no one was willing to help her.

About two dozen NYPD officers had been searching for the boys. Their bodies were discovered in a marsh early Thursday, reported, about 15 yards from each other up against debris and a tree near where the SUV was overturned from the storm surge.

Some 470,000 people live in the Staten Island borough of New York, according to census figures, and many areas of the borough, were spared.

The Staten Island museum and zoo were both operating on Thursday, and ferry services was expected to resume in a day or two, according to the island’s tourism website.

NBC News producer Craig Melvin, investigative producer Shimon Prokupecz and multimedia producer John Makely contributed to this report.