By Nicholas Rizzi
MIDLAND BEACH — A year ago, the sea rushed towards Staten Islanders, decimating homes, destroying neighborhoods and taking 23 lives.
On Tuesday night, residents across the borough marched towards the now calm sea, holding candles and American flags to remember the storm and the carnage it caused.
For many in the hard-hit neighborhood of Midland Beach, the memory of Sandy was still fresh.
The Staten Island Community and Interfaith Long-Term Recovery Organization (LTRO) held an anniversary service to help them meditate on what the storm took away — and how far they've come since.
"We heard people screaming, we saw homes coming off their foundations. Everything changed," said Philip Carbonara, 57, who was in his Mill Road home during the storm.
"It's a good healing moment."
The event started with a 200-person strong march along the Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk, from South Beach until the end on Midland Beach.
Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota joined the nearly three mile walk, and said that the government needs to come together to help the borough.
"I think all levels of government — federal, state and local — need to work together on behalf of the community," Lhota said. "It's one year later and people are still out of their homes."
After the march, the LTRO held an inter-faith prayer ceremony with guest speakers including Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Assemblyman Michael Cusick and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.
"People were so heroic here, helping each other," de Blasio said after his speech.
"This commemoration is again important for remembering all the people lost, all the struggles they went through, but it's also a rededication to make people whole going forward."
The ceremony then marched along the beach to the shoreline, lit candles and sang songs to commemorate when the first storm surge hit land on Staten Island.
Throughout the event, many memorialized the family and friends they lost in the storm and recounted the horrors they saw one year ago.
Ed Halligan, who recently retired after 20 years on the police force, said he was on assignment in Tottenville to help rescue residents who didn't evacuate.
He and his sergeant were on a small raft they were paddling. The storm surge almost drifted them out to sea, he said.
They held on to a tree for nearly 20 minutes and waited for the waters to calm so they could paddle to safety.
"I thought that was it," he said. "My kids were what I was thinking of at the time."
Eventually, they got to safety on the sidewalk across the street and Halligan continued working until the next day. Halligan and eight others in his unit rescued 39 people from the neighborhood, including a co-worker and his pregnant wife.
For some, the memory of the storm was still too fresh for them to fully talk about it.
Michael Lesizza, who's Quincy Avenue property had to be demolished after the storm, said he, his girlfriend and her son were home during the storm with their six pets.
They struggled to get out, but Lesizza was trapped holding onto his roof for nearly 14 hours in the water while his girlfriend's sister, Patricia Bevan, drowned a few blocks away on Hunter Avenue.
Lesizza also lost two dogs and a cat in the storm. He said he doesn't like to talk about the night much, but he'll never forget the sounds one dog made while he drowned.