October 27, 2013

One year later: Superstorm Sandy’s path still scene of devastation

Challenges to rebuilding include inadequate or unreleased funds and new federal construction requirements.

By David B. Caruso
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — A year after Superstorm Sandy catastrophically flooded hundreds of miles of eastern U.S. coastline, thousands of people still trying to fix their soaked and surf-battered homes are being stymied by bureaucracy, insurance disputes and uncertainty over whether they can even afford to rebuild.

click image to enlarge

A postal worker makes his rounds through Breezy Point in the Queens borough of New York on Oct. 17. A year ago on Oct. 29 flooding and a fire swept through the neighborhood, leveling more than 100 homes. The house on the right is one of the few homes that burned to the ground that is now under reconstruction.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SANDY’S TOLL

CONNECTICUT

DEATHS: 6

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: More than 600,000 customers lost power. Federal assistance, loans and insurance claims worth more than $280 million have been paid out.

MARYLAND

DEATHS: 11

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: As recently as January, Baltimore County was added to a federal disaster declaration, allowing assistance to be sought there.

MASSACHUSETTS

DEATHS: None

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: The storm caused strong winds and heavy surf and cut power to more than 300,000 homes and businesses.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

DEATHS: 1

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: Nearly 180,000 homes and business lost power.

NEW JERSEY

DEATHS: 71

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: More than $5.6 billion in federal assistance has been paid.

NEW YORK

DEATHS: 68, including 44 in New York City

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: More than $8 billion has been approved in state and federal assistance to homeowners, renters, businesses, government agencies and nonprofits.

PENNSYLVANIA

DEATHS: 12

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: Wind and flooding closed dozens of bridges and roads as the center of the dissipating storm traveled across the state. More than $3.8 million in federal and state funding has been paid.

WEST VIRGINIA

DEATHS: 7

DAMAGE AND RECOVERY: As much as 3 feet of snow fell, and 270,000 homes and businesses lost power.

Billions of dollars in federal aid appropriated months ago by Congress have yet to reach homeowners who need that money to move on. Many have found flood insurance checks weren’t nearly enough to cover the damage.

And worse, new federal rules mean many in high-risk flood zones may have to either jack their houses up on stilts or pilings – an expensive, sometimes impossible task – or face new insurance rates that hit $10,000 or more per year.

‘A TERRIBLE BURDEN’

“It’s just been such a terrible burden,” said Gina Maxwell, whose home in Little Egg Harbor, N.J., is still a wreck after filling with 4 feet of water. Contractors say it will cost $270,000 to rebuild – about double what the insurance paid out. The family doesn’t have the money.

“What do we do with this house? Just give them the deed back?” she said. “My son is 11. He has a little piggy bank in his room. He said, ‘Take it, mom.”’

In blue-collar Union Beach, N.J., the owner of the popular restaurant Jakeabob’s Bay has come up with only a quarter of the $2 million she needs to rebuild. In Long Beach, a barrier-island city of 33,000 on the coast of New York’s Long Island, residents in some neighborhoods say half their neighbors have yet to return.

“I don’t think Long Beach is ever going to be what it was,” said resident Ginger Matthews.

Sandy roared out of the Atlantic and struck the New York and New Jersey coasts on Oct. 29, 2012. The 1,000-mile-wide mashup of a hurricane and another huge weather system killed at least 182 people in the U.S., according to a count by The Associated Press, and caused an estimated $65 billion in damage.

Floodwaters swept over densely populated barrier islands and pushed deep into bays and harbors from Atlantic City, N.J., all the way to Rhode Island. In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, sending the Hudson and East rivers pouring into the city’s subway and commuter tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.

Gas stations ran out of fuel. High-rise residents had to carry water up darkened stairwells. Thousands of fragile patients evacuated crippled hospitals and nursing homes.

Out of that chaos came remarkable stories of recovery. New York City’s submerged subways and tunnels sprang back to life with surprising speed. Beach boardwalks were rebuilt. Mountains of debris were removed. Flooded schools, nursing homes and amusement parks have reopened. The whine of power tools hasn’t ceased in many neighborhoods since the moment the floodwaters receded.

continuing frustration

But for every success story, there are tales of continuing frustration.

On New York City’s Staten Island, where 23 people died, vacant lots have been multiplying on spots where homes once stood. Sheetrock and debris still decorate front lawns. Plywood covers bungalows, “Restricted Use” signs hanging on their front doors.

On the Jersey shore, officials said that in the tiny seaside borough of Mantoloking, where the storm washed dozens of homes clean into Barnegat Bay, fewer than half the buildings in town had been repopulated.

While some beach towns quickly rebuilt their seaside promenades and beaches, Toms River, N.J., where hundreds of homes were destroyed, managed to rebuild only two blocks of boardwalk and had a small sliver of beach open this summer. Beachgoers had to walk past rubble and still-to-be-torn-down houses to reach the sand.

(Continued on page 2)

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