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Despair and Resilience on Babbitt Court

ELMSFORD, N.Y. -- On the morning Tropical Storm Irene hit, Babbitt Court, a short lane off South Central Avenue in Elmsford, became the focus of great attention, with TV crews, neighbors and politicians all converging there to watch firefighters rescue residents from their flooded homes.

But now that the water has receded and the commotion has ended, the only ones left in Babbitt Court are the residents. With their houses and possessions in tatters some residents, such as Ross O'Country, have decided to stay and repair their homes, while others, like Fran Cerone, have had enough and want to move on.

On Sunday morning, O’Country, 79, was sitting at the back of his house at Babbitt Court. Wearing a ragged jeans and a white T-shirt, his legs crossed, he was smoking a Cuban cigar, a habit he brought with him when, at 24, he came from Cuba to the United States. A bottle of Boucheron red wine sat on top of the table.

He seemed very relaxed, and yet he willingly stood up to show the damage the storm caused in his house. He ran a tape measure from the ground to the mark the water left on the door.

“You have here 31 inches,” he said.

He did the same at the garage’s door (51 inches) and pointed to all the electrical equipment that got flooded: a grinder, a circular saw, a compressor.

“The generator was underwater, too,” he said. “And all these toys, bicycles, wheelbarrow.”

Back in the house, he opened the refrigerator and showed its two brownish bottom shelves. In his bedroom, a drawer in the closet was still full of water. O'Country said that he and his wife lost $5,000 worth of clothing.

“This is unbelievable. The first floor here is totally lost,” he said, mentioning that he was taking cold showers because the heater was still not working.

“Then it’s not healthy for anybody to breathe in here,” he said.

His wife, Marjorie Riccardi, who he said has breathing problems, was wearing a mask.

Yet, O'Country guaranteed that he has no intention to move out.

“Oh, I love this house,” he said, pointing to the hibiscus in his garden, and the phlox, the lilies and the red maple tree. He rubbed his foot on the grass.

“You walk here, and it’s like you are walking on a carpet,” he said

For all the damage that Irene caused, O'Country’s house still looks very charming from outside, with its yellow walls and brown windows, a rose under each of them, and a white dogwood tree climbing on the flagpole.

“I don’t have the heart to say I pack and go. My life is here,” he said.

O'Country, who has been living on Babbitt Court for 30 years, said that the frequent floods forced him to make many repairs in the house. He changed the windows twice and dug the ground four feet around the house and sealed it with tar in an attempt to keep the water out.

“I fixed it and I will fix it again,” he said.

But just across the road, O'Country's neighbor, Cerone, who also had her house flooded during Irene, didn’t show the same will.

“What’s the pointing of rebuilding? This house is a disaster,” she said.

Her house had no flowers, the grass was high, and fallen trees lean against her back wall. Inside, the air had an acrid smell, and a thin layer of mud coated the entire floor. Car tires laid in the living room; boxes piled up in the kitchen. It didn’t even resemble the home she has lived since 1978, and where she has raised five children.

“I stayed here because I was raising kids and I couldn’t leave,” she said.

The last one moved upstate in January, and now that they are all on their own, Cerone, who is divorced, wants to leave, too.

“I can’t do this anymore. There is no solution here,” she said.

She added that, even though she has insurance, it doesn’t pay for all the damage.

“I lost everything over the years and rebuilt and rebuilt, and now I have nothing,” she said.

Cerone’s house was flooded 14 times during the time she lived in Babbitt Court, four in the last six months, she said. She could even recite the dates: March 7, March 11, April 17 and Aug. 28.

“What is the point of rebuilding?” she said. “If I had rebuilt in March, I would have lost all again in August.”

Cerone said that she has already spoken to every possible government entity about her problem, including the Village of Elmsford, the Town of Greenburgh, the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Nobody is going to help me. Nobody is accountable for that river,” she said, referring to the Saw Mill River, which runs behind Babbitt Court and overflows with heavy rain, flooding the lane.

She also mentioned that many politicians visited her, and that all promised that they were going to help.

“How they are going to help? I don’t know,” she said.

Now, Cerone is trying to sell the house back to the bank, while staying with her mother in Yonkers.

“My choices are foreclosure, bankruptcy or buyout,” she said.

She was reluctant to go inside the house, and stayed there very briefly. She entered an empty bedroom where the walls were splattered with mildew.

“This is my home,” she said, but her voice had a sorrowful tone.

Maybe because she knew it isn’t her home anymore.

Are you a resident at Babbitt Court? Are you planning to sell your house, as Cerone, or are you going to stay no matter what, as O'Country? You can answer below or on Facebook .

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