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No power and soaked with oil, Bayonne's Avenue F residents cope

By Janet McGurty and Ransdell Pierson

BAYONNE, New Jersey (Reuters) - In the shadow of the huge tanks where oil companies have stored their gasoline for decades, residents of gritty Bayonne, New Jersey, watched in horror as Sandy's winds and rain brought more than water into their homes.

"I've been living here for 30 years and we have had water, but never oil," said Rose Trombetto, who has survived many other storm surges. "I'm heartbroken."

First the power went out Monday night, she said. Then a frightful oil and water mixture poured into her basement and crept into her first-floor living room, collecting about her ankles and saturating the furniture and family mementos.

Although Trombetto's son and other relatives had sandbagged and secured vulnerable windows and doors before the storm, the strong winds opened cracks inside the plaster walls of the building.

The damage from megastorm Sandy was more than she, or any of her neighbors along a two-block stretch of Avenue F, had bargained for.

Oil companies for generations have stored their gasoline and diesel in the "Peninsula City" of 63,000 people, perched conveniently between New York Harbor and Staten Island, east of Newark. Driving on the New Jersey Turnpike toward New York, the tank farms form an indelible industrial landscape.

Rose and her neighbors on Saturday looked with suspicion at dozens of oil storage tanks arrayed a few hundred yards in the distance, and patches of bare ground where other tanks had once stood in their working-class neighborhood.

Still without power, they continued to pile belongings onto the sidewalk in front of their multi-family homes, salvaging what they could from the oily heaps.

They used bleach to clean the walls and floors of their houses, and prepare for the eventual replacement of ruined furniture.

Many of them enjoyed warm meals prepared by the neighborhood's "Pastor Kelly" and his wife, who have also been delivering water.

Scores of parked cars bore oily streaks, marking the high-water line of the now retreated flood.

When asked about the situation on Avenue F, a dispatcher at the Bayonne Police Department said one resident had called to complain that "everything's covered with oil."

James Kennelly, a spokesman for the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management, said he had not been notified of any "oil slicks" in Bayonne or elsewhere in the county.

Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said he was unaware of any fuel spills or leaks in Bayonne.

But Ragonese added, "There have been a lot of reports of small leaks of fuel in that part of Jersey, and also across the Arthur Kill in Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn) and Staten Island.

In the meantime, Rose Trombetto seems determined to stay put in familiar surroundings, dominated by the tank farm. Her two brothers - one fixes appliances, the other is a tax accountant - share an office on the first floor and will keep her company. But they have their own work cut out for them. Their faxes, computers, printers, and documents all bear a patina of oil.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

(This story was refiled to fix Ransdell in byline and drop extraneous word in the sixth paragraph)

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