NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Six months after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Tri-State Area, the region continues its steady, but sometimes slow, pace to a full recovery.
Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage and left tens of thousands of people homeless after coming ashore Oct. 29. half a year later, major issues including housing, business, tourism and coastal protection still remain.
In New Jersey, Sandy destroyed about 360,000 homes and some areas along the shore are still struggling.
“We’re doing a heck of a lot better today than we were six months ago,” Gov. Chris Christie told 1010 WINS on Monday. “But there are a lot of people, thousands of families who still don’t have their homes back to them.”
Beaches that were washed away are coming back, due to both nature and bulldozers, as officials work to protect the shoreline from future storms.
“Projects will begin next month to build a dune system along the entire 130-mile coastline of New Jersey and into the bay shore as well to try to make sure if another storm like this comes, that we’re much better prepared,” Christie said. “And all the boardwalks across New Jersey will be rebuilt by Memorial Day weekend.”
The roller coaster that plunged off a pier in Seaside Heights, N.J. is still in the ocean, although demolition plans are finally moving forward.
Scores of homes that were destroyed in nearby Mantoloking still look as they did the day after the storm — piles of rubble and kindling, with the occasional bathroom fixture or personal possession visible among the detritus.
Homeowners are tortured by uncertainty over ever-changing rules on how high they’ll need to rebuild their homes to protect against the next storm. Insurance companies have not paid out all that many homeowners expected.
Christie estimated 39,000 New Jersey families remain displaced, down from 161,000 the day after the storm.
Christie announced details Monday of the state’s plans to spend more than $1.8 billion in federal grants on storm rebuilding and recovery.
“The homeowner grant program that will allow folks to apply for grants to elevate their homes or rebuild their homes if they were destroyed, so that’s priority number one: to get people back in their homes,” Christie said.
“We’re not here to take a victory lap because we know that we haven’t achieved victory yet, anywhere near it,” said Christie.
“This is not all the community development block grant money we have for the state of New Jersey. This is the first piece of New Jersey’s plan. It’s $1.83 billion, so it’s substantial,” said Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
To be eligible for this latest round of grant money, homeowners and business owners must be registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency by May 1.
‘A LOT OF WORK TO DO’ ON STATEN ISLAND
For many in some of the hardest-hit communities in New York City and Long Island — including New Dorp, Staten Island; Long Beach; the Rockaways; Red Hook; and Breezy Point, the recovery from Sandy has also been slow.
“We certainly have made some headway, we have helped quite a few people but we are really just embarking on a big, big part of the full recovery and there are still some that are suffering quite a bit so we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott.
Grimm added that for the families of the 23 Staten Islanders killed by Sandy, the road has been even longer.
The Staten Island congressman said he is not surprised some residents are still homeless six months later.
“It was surreal. The morning when the storm dissipated, I looked in disbelief and saw entire homes gone, the entire home. Now I know enough to know that you’re not rebuilding a home in six months. If there was no storm and you wanted to build a new home, you’re looking at probably 18 months minimum to build a home from scratch,” Grimm told Scott. “I knew this was going to be a long, difficult process.”
Grimm said his top priority is getting people who are still displaced back into their homes and businesses.
“I would give the president high marks in this. He came to Staten Island, was extremely compassionate, took a lot of time and just his presence uplifted the spirits of so many,” Grimm said of President Barack Obama’s response to the storm.
Residents across the five boroughs vented their frustrations six months later.
“I’ve watched the tears and I’ve watched the anger and the tears again and the frustration and six months later, I’m still serving food. That alone should say something,” said Donna Graziano, coordinator of Cedar Beach Community Hub, which serves as a relief center for displaced residents in New Dorp.
Some residents gathered on the steps of City Hall on Monday to protest the conditions. As 1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks reported, Alison Pugliese has been living in a motel on Staten Island ever since the storm, struggling to survive. She is waiting for her home to be rid of mold.
“Transportation, medication, food, all those things I was pleading for on the phone. That shouldn’t happen here. This is New York City. Why is this happening? Why would we put people out on the street? I can’t fathom this,” she said.
Pugliese said it is time for the Bloomberg administration to take another look at the situation on Staten Island and other affected places.
“I want them to do a new tour; see what’s going on. I want them to look at these houses that are abandoned. The furniture is still in them. They’re covered with mold. Nothing’s being done about it. That will get into the air,” she said. “We have children. I meet them. These children have asthma attacks. They’re living in homes, a lot of people, that they shouldn’t be living in.”
Across New York State, the storm damaged 27,000 homes and destroyed 454 others. More than 250 families are still living in hotel rooms across the state, paid for by FEMA, while others are still shacking up with relatives or living in temporary rentals.
“Some families and some lives have come back together quickly and well, and some people are up and running almost as if nothing ever happened, and for them it’s been fine,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. “Some people are still very much in the midst of recovery. You still have people in hotel rooms, you still have people doubled up, you still have people fighting with insurance companies, and for them it’s been terrible and horrendous.”
Cuomo announced Monday that in total, New York State has provided $47,274,759 to New York City for reimbursement costs associated with Sandy.
HOPE AND PROGRESS IN THE ROCKAWAYS
On Rockaway Beach Boulevard in Belle Harbor, a whole block has been bulldozed. A section of Belle Harbor and Breezy Point burned down when a fire swept through after the storm.
As CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu recalled, more than 100 homes burned to the ground during the fire – an electrical blaze that started in one of the homes.
By the time firefighters were able to reach the houses, it was too late.
“If you go up my block now, all the houses have been demolished and removed,” resident Ray Marten said. “They’re pretty much just holes in the ground. Sand pits.”
“The air is horrible. We still have the same sludge that was there. It might be low but we have it,” Mary Burke told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
She said more stores are reopening every week, but business seems slow everywhere.
“I think it’s a little bit better, but long timers are still moving out,” she said.
The Lepera family of Breezy Point has been renting a home in Franklin Square, waiting to rebuild the home Joanne Lepera was born in.
“When it was still in ruins, it definitely was a lot tougher now that it’s like clean land. It’s almost like hope,” Lepera said.
With so much wiped out in the area, something that really stands out were some colorful stars made by the local children. They sported words such “hope,” “faith” and “rebuild,” as they hung throughout the neighborhood.
Breezy Point is a place where everyone knows everyone.
“On our walks, families have had the house there for, I’d say, 40-plus years,” said Nancy Levins.
Levins has been a block captain for more than a decade, and has been trying her best to keep everyone connected — through email.
“It’s been incredible. You can’t imagine how incredible,” she said. “I’m going to start crying.”
Shortly after the fire, Hsu interviewed Kieran and Jennifer Burke. Jennifer was 3 months pregnant when they lost their home.
On Monday, the family was back, with 2-year-old Kieran, and Matthew Patrick. who was born two weeks ago. While the family has been struggling with government and insurance red tape to rebuild, they said Breezy Point is where the boys will grow up.
“He’ll be back mayor of the block, running up and down showing his brother the ways of Breezy,” Jennifer Burke said.
By many measures, remarkable progress has been made in Breezy Point. Boardwalks, the tourism lifeblood of the region, are springing back to life.
A handful of homes are going up, and the whine of power saws and the thwack of hammers is everywhere in hard-hit beach towns as contractors fix what can be saved and bulldozers knock down what can’t.
A FIGHT TO REVIVE THE JERSEY SHORE
Back on the Jersey Shore, the town of Sea Bright has been rebuilding. On the beach, and in the tiny, tight-knit community, it has been a struggle for residents.
“It is depressing, but you can see progress being made,” said homeowner Maryana Robertson. “You can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Robertson just moved back into her home on Church Street, sitting on the porch. It was a luxury after living in a rental.
“Just to be in your own bed, your own pillow” is a relief, she said.
Robertson was one of the lucky ones, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported. Her foundation is intact, even though 4 feet of water destroyed the interior of her home.
It has taken months to renovate, but she is in better shape than many of her neighbors, who have seen their homes condemned.
Half of the 1,800 residents of Sea Bright have not been able to move back in, including borough Mayor Dina Long, whose house was damaged.
“We are still wrestling without insurers — myself included — so we can get a settlement and start rebuilding our homes,” Long said.
But the mayor said the town will be open for business this Memorial Day Weekend.
Meanwhile in Sandy Hook, crews have rebuilt the dunes and volunteers are digging out sand from the bathrooms and concessions.
“People interested in giving us a hand, they were coming on Saturdays. We were working with them on projects and they did an amazing job,” unit coordinator Pete McCarthy with the National Park Service told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.
He said Sandy leveled the dunes and buried the parking lots and main road under drifts of sand four to six feet deep.
“It was like driving through the Sahara Desert,” he said.
McCarthy said he hopes to see the public back at Sandy Hook on Wednesday.
“They’ll be access to all of the parking lots at Sandy Hook except for Area F, which is the fishing beach, which, unfortunately, was completely washed out. We’ll have temporary facilities to begin and we’re hoping to have the facilities open at Areas B, G, and North Beach by Memorial Day weekend,” he said.
A SLOW COMEBACK ON THE LONG ISLAND SHORES
On Long Island, progress in some communities can be measured house-by-house and street-by-street.
As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, Sean Hogan of Lindenhurst was getting his roof back up, and his wife has had a baby since the storm. But he has had no money from the insurance.
“I’m doing it all on my own time, and thank God I have some friends that came and helped me, and basically just worked for free,” he said.
Their street was decimated. A neighbor, Ray Velton, took home video of water that he estimated to be above his head.
Meanwhile, the South Shore of Nassau County was soaked with sewage and sea water. Prized possessions from thousands of homes were carted to Nickerson Beach, brewing a potential health calamity.
The dump is gone now, but things are far from back to normal. Neighbors said tourists will be bowled over – and not in a good way – on Long Beach.
The boardwalk in Long Beach is not rebuilt; a dedication ceremony for a new boardwalk was held just this past weekend. And around the town, many businesses remained shuttered.
“We know that six months is way too long to wait, whether it be for our residents or our businesses,” said Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman. “But we are so happy.”
The happiness and relief comes from the fact that Sandy relief funding is due this week, he said.
And some businesses on Long Beach are back up and running, including Bruce Bond’s pizzeria.
“I was closed for six-and-a-half weeks, comeback is slow. There’s about 700 empty homes that are still on the west end of Long Beach, the area where my business is. We survived,” Bond told WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs. “We survived like Long Beach people do. And we’ll keep surviving, we’ll keep going on one day at a time.”
Bond added that his business will be back and stronger than ever as the recovery process continues. But some storm-weary residents like Janice said full recovery is still a long way off.
“You almost can’t believe it happened. I can’t believe it’s six months,” a Long Beach resident added.
There are still hundreds of single-family homes and many businesses too damaged to occupy or open, Xirinachs reported.
Congress approved more than $60 billion in Sandy relief funds, most of it for New Jersey and New York, despite opposition from many Congressional Republicans who wanted to spend less.
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