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Amid destroyed homes, Hurricane Sandy victims question going to the polls

John Makely / NBC News

Billy Hague takes a break from cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy at his mother's house in the Ocean Breeze neighborhood of Staten Island, N.Y. on Monday.

By John Makely, NBC News

I've covered a fair number of disasters, but standing next to destroyed buildings with debris piled high, I've never asked anyone, "Are you going to vote in tomorrow's election?" Even with vastly different viewpoints of the two leading presidential candidates and the important issues that they represent, the question almost seems absurd standing in the mud, talking to people who have lost almost everything due to Hurricane Sandy.

Billy Hague took a break from cleaning up his mother's house on Quincy Ave. in the Ocean Breeze neighborhood of Staten Island, where the water reached almost ten feet. "You wander around aimlessly because you don't know what to do next,” he said.

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Hague, a contractor, said all of his tools were submerged in salt water, so they are now virtually useless. After police chased away looters a couple days ago, he made a big sign warning trespassers, though he adds, "Not that there is anything left to take." Asked about the election, Hague does not care. "People need basics right now, give me a break. It doesn't matter anyway because [New York] is a blue state."   

John Makely / NBC News

A sign in front of Billy Hague's home reads 'No Trespass-will be shot.' in the Ocean Breeze neighborhood of Staten Island, New York on Nov. 5.

Around the corner from Hague lives Peter Emelock. A proud resident of the block for thirty-five years, though Emelock says he's a newcomer. "There are people who have been here for eighty years," says Emelock, as he takes a minute from cleaning his modest home. "What are you going to do? You have to rebuild. I'm learning this as I go. I gotta move on."

John Makely / NBC News

Peter Emelock takes a minute from cleaning his modest home in the Ocean Breeze neighborhood of Staten Island, N.Y. on Nov. 5.

He wonders if it might have been better if the house was completely gone. Emelock, his wife and their dogs barely escaped the storm surge as the water rushed in from the beach over Father Capodanno Blvd. "A neighbor called and said, 'You gotta get out' so we had a go bag and barely made it out in time. Next time when they say 'evacuate' we're gone."

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"I am voting tomorrow. I feel like I should. My polling place is still open but my problem is the gas," says Emelock, as he wonders how much gasoline it will take to drive to the polling station, and if the state could do something more.  "This is a Katrina for Staten Island and the East Coast. It took too long for [FEMA] to bite into this."

John Makely / NBC News

Marines work alongside members of the New York Sanitation department to clear debris from the Midland Beach neighborhood in Staten Island, N.Y. on Nov. 5

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