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Long Island house on stilts survives Sandy, but barely

November 02, 2012|By Brian Bennett

ASHAROKEN, N.Y. -- When James Zima built his dream house on a small cove facing Long Island Sound back in 1978, he studied storm records and built his cedar plank home on stilts, 2 feet above the highest storm surge in the previous 100 years.

Super storm Sandy brought the water within 18 inches of his floorboards Monday night.

That's when he ran uphill to a neighbor's house.

"I barely survived it," said Zima, 61, a lean and taughtly built man with wisps of white hair.

On Thursday, he had just finished raking a 2-foot mat of sea grass off his lawn. The power was still out, and Zima was keeping the contents of his refrigerator cool with a generator.

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Residents of Asharoken, a small village on a spit of land between Long Island Sound and Northport Bay where Zima lives, were just beginning to clean up the flotsam brought ashore and into many homes by Sandy's powerful winds and waves.

City trucks had cleared sand from the main road, making shoulder-high dunes on either side. Flattened lobster traps littered yards, and drivers dodged docks that had been torn off their pilings.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a sea wall to protect the road here, but the storm surge pushed boulders as big as wheelbarrows from the barrier to the other side of the road. 

Sandy ripped into Long Island's north shore communities like a giant nor'easter, with gusts clocked at 90 mph. Storm surge from the sound pushed into the bays and coves, as well as the tight corner where Long Island meets Connecticut and the Bronx.

The surge in Northport Bay turned Zima's house on stilts into an island, and the high winds made his 5-foot-high picture window bow inward "like someone pushing on the glass in a horror movie," he said.

The retired electrical parts salesman was making $10,000 a year when he built the house. He put everything into making sure it would survive record-setting winds, tides and storm surges. Although it did, in a way, he was disappointed. 

"I was hoping I wouldn't live that long to experience it," he said.

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

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