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Superstorm Sandy was cruel to elderly who refused to evacuate

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 9:34 am

NEW YORK — Even with her Coney Island apartment squarely in the path of Superstorm Sandy, Loraine Gore was staying put. At age 90, she said, she had her reasons.

"I'm tired," she told a friend who urged her to evacuate. "I don't want to go."

After floodwaters subsided, Gore's body was found face-down in her home — one of nearly a dozen New Yorkers over the age of 65 who perished in the storm.

While Sandy claimed victims as young as toddlers, it was crueler to the city's elderly.

Some were vulnerable because of poor health. The power failure cut off the oxygen supply for an ailing 75-year woman living in Manhattan's East Village. Her grandson rushed to a nearby hospital to get a manual tank, but by the time he returned, she had died from an apparent heart attack.

Others died fleeing the storm. On Wednesday, police discovered the bodies of an 89-year-old man and his 66-year-old wife next to their car in a vacant lot on Staten Island. Police believe the couple died after their car became submerged in water.

Most drowned alone in bedrooms, living rooms and basements that flooded.

One 84-year-old victim in Queens was confined to a wheelchair, meaning she probably couldn't have fled the rising water. But other older victims weren't homebound. They chose to stay and risk their lives, perhaps too stubborn or too weary to do otherwise.

Another was 82-year-old Jimmy Rossi, known as "Uncle Jimmy" because so many people in his tight-knit Staten Island community are related. Rossi lived in a beach bungalow and spent much of his time tending to his aging bulldog, Shorty.

As the water began to rise Monday night, neighbors assumed Rossi had heeded calls to head for higher ground. A niece heard through a friend that he was going to his son's house. He told his son he was going to a friend's.

But when the storm eased Tuesday, it became increasingly clear Rossi had done neither.

Rossi's son, Joe, his nephew and some neighbors used a kayak to break the windows of his submerged home in a frantic, failed search. On Wednesday, his body was found in the marsh behind his house, where Shorty had survived.

Neighbor Richard Quinn, a retired firefighter, speculated that Rossi had left the house to escape the rising water but got swept up in it.

"Like the rest of us, he probably figured it wasn't going to be as bad as it was," said Quinn, who has lived across the street for 50 years. "It was like a tsunami coming."

Gore's final hours were spent in the apartment where she had lived alone since her husband, a former transit worker, died more than a decade ago. She was known as a neighborhood pioneer — one of the first to live at the water's edge in a complex of 22 two-story townhouses.

Longtime friend Celina Grant recalled Gore as "a pleasant, humble person" who was a "very, very independent woman."

She "loved gardening and loved God," Grant said.

In recent years, Gore had the help of a home health care aide after she developed difficulty walking. She told a neighbor she had stopped using the second floor.

On Monday, a friend tried to coax Gore out of her home, but she refused. Bayside waters later rose, flooding the first floors of all the apartments with 4 feet of water.

The next day, with no sign of Gore, a man used a screwdriver to pry open her door.

A moment later, he came back out, shouting: "She's dead! Call 911!" said neighbor Jenny Brown.

Brown ventured inside, finding Gore face-down on the floor, her arms spread out, surrounded by overturned furniture and dirt left behind by the receding waters.

"It was a mess like all of our apartments," she said. "Maybe she didn't feel good. Maybe she slept there."

The neighbors sought comfort in fond memories of Gore. Some recalled that her favorite flowers were carnations.

Gore liked "that they last so long," Grant said.

She paused for a few seconds before adding: "Like her."