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1 Year Later, Superstorm Sandy Survivors Light Up Shore

Vigils, Volunteer Projects To Mark 1 Year Anniversary

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Superstorm Sandy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Candles and flashlights lit up the shore as survivors of Superstorm Sandy paid their respects to what was lost when the storm roared ashore one year ago.

To mark Tuesday’s anniversary, residents of coastal neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey that suffered some of the worst flooding honored that terrible day in ways both public and private.

On Staten Island, residents lit candles by the stretch of waterfront closest to their homes at 7:45 p.m. in a “Light the Shore” vigil.

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In Brooklyn, residents held an interfaith service and candlelight vigil in Canarsie Park. In Far Rockaway, Queens, residents gathered for a healing Mass Tuesday evening at St. Mary Star of the Sea.

Along the Jersey shore, people shined flashlights in a symbolic triumph over the darkness that Sandy brought.

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It’s a time of healing for many who suffered in Sandy’s wake. But the day also brings back frightening memories for people who survived the waves and wind that lashed their homes.

“People are terrified of the ocean, even though we’ve lived here all our lives,” said Lily Corcoran, who lives in Belle Harbor. “We’re all terrified of the water and what it can do.”

Sandy made landfall at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across Long Island and the Jersey shore.

In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city’s subway and commuter tunnels. A transformer explosion plunged lower Manhattan into the dark during the height of the storm.

During the storm, NYU’s Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital were both inundated with water. The most vulnerable patients, including babies from the NICU, were evacuated during the height of the storm.

Today, both hospitals are still a work in progress.

At NYU, repairs to the emergency room are ongoing and are set to be completed next spring. Bellevue is in the process of constructing a permanent flood wall.

The storm was blamed for at least 181 deaths, including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey, and property damages estimated at $65 billion.

Rebuilding has been a nightmare for those in the hardest hit areas. A year later, neighborhoods and businesses are bouncing back, but many are still grappling with the reality that this could happen again.

In Breezy Point, where nearly 130 homes burned to the ground during the storm, residents are planting sea grass on sand dunes. But for many in Breezy Point, recovery is still a long way off.

Ann Allen, who retired to Breezy Point six years ago with her husband, said their white beachfront house is new again, but it will be a while before they move back in.

“Maybe next month we’ll start buying furniture and stuff, but the house is livable,” Allen told WCBS 880’s Alex  Silverman.

In Staten Island, where Sandy roared ashore and killed 23 people, there are still plenty of reminders of the storm. Wallboard and debris are piled on front lawns.

Bungalows are covered in plywood. “Restricted Use” signs are plastered on many front doors.

On Long Island, evidence of Sandy’s wrath still remains. Nearly a 100,000 buildings were destroyed in the storm, causing more than $8 billion in damage.

In Hoboken, the storm surge sent water cascading through the streets. Many of the city’s 50,000 residents were stranded in their homes for days.

Today, city leaders are working to boost flood infrastructure, but say it’s as vulnerable now as it was a year ago.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicked off what was billed as a “Sandy Resiliency Tour” in lower Manhattan at the National Museum of the American Indian, which was temporarily shut down last year by flooding and power outages.

He said the city and state are now better equipped to withstand extreme weather.

“Sometimes it takes a crisis to appreciate a new reality,” he said.

Speaking at South Ferry where the subway system was completely inundated with water, Gov. Cuomo recalled the devastation that happened there one year ago.

“It was a feeling of powerlessness, frankly, for me that I had probably never felt in my life,” said the governor.

As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, Cuomo, along with MTA chairman Tom Prendergast, showed off covers they’re looking into buying for more than 500 spots where water poured in. They would be paid for out $20 billion already allocated by the federal government.

Deep inside the South Ferry station, a 30-foot-long inflatable bladder that would be able to plug the tunnel in minutes was on display. The bladder was just in place as a demo, Silverman reported.

Officials at South Ferry show off giant inflatable bladder designed to plug subway tunnel to prevent against future flooding, Oct. 29, 2013. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Officials at South Ferry show off giant inflatable bladder designed to plug subway tunnel to prevent against future flooding, Oct. 29, 2013. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

“The Hudson River froze one year, prompted us to build the Holland Tunnel,” said Cuomo. “We learn from the crises and we will learn from this crisis.”

As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, other upgrades being rolled out slowly also include steel flood doors for 540 subway entrances in lower Manhattan, construction upgrades to the World Trade Center site, which flooded during Sandy; and a new three-story electric substation at LaGuardia Airport, which raises sensitive equipment so it’s not flooded during a storm surge.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the improvements will take time.

“You can’t remake systems in a year or even a couple of years,” he said. “This is work that we are going to need to do over many years.”

Cuomo also ordered flags on state buildings to be flown at half-staff on Tuesday and asked residents to observe a moment of silence at 8 p.m., which is the time the storm surge hit New York City.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg toured Crescent Beach on Staten Island, where a 10-foot storm surge destroyed homes. A 10-foot-high berm is being built by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the shore form future storms.

Subway riders on the A and R lines can also ride for free on Tuesday along sections hardest hit by Sandy.

Riders will not be charged on the A line between Howard Beach and the Rockaway Peninsula and on the R line between Bay Ridge-95th Street and Court Street.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie planned Sandy recovery events across the state.

Thousands of volunteers will also be working on a number of projects across the Garden State, including beach cleanups, debris removal and home repairs.

Sandy service days were organized by the Sandy Relief Fund, chaired by New Jersey’s First Lady Mary Pat Christie and the Jersey Cares group.

Federal officials were in Little Ferry, N.J. on Monday to announce another round of help for homeowners while also acknowledging it hasn’t been easy dispersing the first round.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, homeowners in the working class town did whatever they could to rebuild their homes and their lives.

“What I had to do just to make ends meet was not pay my mortgage for five months,” homeowner Nick Marino said.

He made $60,000 in repairs to his home quickly and with no help from the federal government. He said since the work is already done, he’s doubtful he’ll see any aid from Washington.

His neighbor, George Schtabel, said FEMA payments created rifts among neighbors.

“Everybody had the same amount of water. Some people got $30,000, other people got $8,000,” Schtabel told Diamond

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced Monday that an additional $1 billion in aid was coming to New Jersey.

He conceded red tape has kep some of the federal money from homeowners.

“But ultimately, if we’re going to be good stewards of this money we’ve got to make sure that the money is spent not only as quickly as possible but also as effectively as possible,” Donovan said.

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