Pedro Correa survived the last storm, Hurricane Sandy, by clinging to the roof of a floating house.
He'd stayed behind on his block in Oakwood Beach, Staten Island, to pump water out of his basement as the sea swept in. A few days after that storm, he came to the tough decision that he and his family weren't going to rebuild the seaside home that he'd poured his lifesavings into over the last half decade.
On Friday, as he sat in his family's rental apartment on higher ground, he sounded like he was finally beginning to appreciate the benefits of that choice. "I really don't have a care in the world now," he said. "We're gonna sit home and relax and enjoy the snow. Maybe go sledding. "
More than three months after hundreds of people stayed home to ride out what proved to be the most deadly storm in the borough's recent memory, Staten Island is bracing for yet another storm.
This time, according to a press release from the National Weather Service, "there is no significant threat to life." Although the weather service is predicting possible beach erosion in the Rockaways and flooding of some shore roads and basements, its press release describes the potential flood levels as "moderate."
Even so, residents of the most vulnerable areas have moved out of harm's way and remain nervous. Sue Somma, a resident of Oakwood Beach who has been staying with family farther inland, said she was dreading going back to her house Friday to collect her winter clothes. "We keep saying, we're gonna go back because our conditions are tough right now where we are, but my daughter is terrified and I'm not very peaceful about it either," she said. "But it's not something we can really put off much longer."
Although the Staten Island Advance is reporting that at least one coastal community is a "ghost town," Correa and others said they know of people who have returned home to the shoreline. "They just finished rebuilding," he said. "I'm sure I'll be down there tomorrow looking at the devastation again."
Correa said he was particularly concerned about an elderly woman who lives in one of the few surviving homes on his old block. He did not know where she planned to ride out the storm this time, and said he couldn't reach her because she doesn't have a phone. Workers for the city's recovery program installed her home's new heater in the basement, he said.
"The block has no protection from the sea now, so if they only get a couple of feet of storm surge, the heater's done."
A spokesman for New York City did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tina Downer, one of Correa's former neighbors, said she already heard reports of flooding in the area, during this morning's high tide. Downer has no plans to return to her former home: Earlier this week, she and other residents were relieved to learn that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is supporting a plan to buy out owners of the most damaged properties along the New York shoreline. "If there were another flooding condition, it's not going to be easy to get out," she said. "That's why the buyout is so important."
Teddy Atlas, a former boxer who runs the Theodore Atlas Foundation, a local charity, said he and his team just finished putting a new roof on the home of a family that had been living without heat since November.
"There's an old saying in boxing, 'If you kill the head, the body will follow," he said. "These storms have been pounding at these people's bodies for so many rounds now, it starts to break you down mentally as well."