Sense Of Community Returns As State Steps In With Cash And Home Modifications

ISLAND PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Hurricane Sandy roared through the Tri-State Area two years ago this week. While the rebuilding continues, so does the frustration. But some affected residents say there is good that came out of the disaster.

Memories of the storm are fresh.

Standing in a vacant lot where her living room used to be, Mary Ellen Malone’s recovery from Sandy isn’t even close.

“You get told one thing, then another, then another, and nothing ever comes through, everything changes,” Malone told CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff on Monday. “How do you go on like that?”

Lots like Malone’s and empty houses still dot the small village of Island Park, which was submerged in 6 feet of sea water, carrying away life savings and memories.

“Your whole heart and soul is in your home and it’s taken away,” Malone said. “It’s just a horrible feeling.”

Malone said she is still battling for state money to rebuild. Two years later, the recovery has been long and frustrating, but progress is visible. Almost all the shops are reopened. And while Village Hall is still shuttered and business conducted in trailers, more than 80 percent of residents have returned home.

“We have pulled ourselves up by bootstraps and sometimes we’ve plodded and sometimes we’ve accelerated, but we’ve kept moving in a forward direction,” Island Park Mayor Michael McGinty said.

Resident Terry Reichel is moving forward. Her house was repaired. Now she waits for money to elevate it.

“Frustrating, heart wrenching, depressing … it’s hard,” Reichel said.

The Corbett family — all six of them — ran out of money while rebuilding. They’re suing two insurance companies.

“We had hoped and prayed we would be home by Christmas. I don’t believe at this point that that’s going happen unless all the money we need gets dumped at our feet right now,” Cathy Corbett said.

New York Rising, the crisis agency created to dole out money to 15,000 Long Island applicants, said 90 percent have received checks.

“In as much as some people are facing a lot of challenges, collectively, we really had some great successes,” said Jon Kaiman, special advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The state has already paid half a billion dollars and more taxpayer money is on the way to elevate roads, and improve drainage.

“As time goes on people will see that this is one of the fastest recoveries in American history on this scale,” Kaiman said.

Looking back on two years, residents said they never thought they’d still be rebuilding, but said they’ve also built a stronger community bond.

“Now we know each other much better than we did before and we have learned how to cooperate and work together,” Mayor McGinty said.

“We know that we are strong. We know that we can band together again, unfortunately, if it were to ever happen again,” Reichel added.

“The people that I’ve met through this process will be my friends forever because we have met each other at the worst times,” Corbett said.

And many in this community said the storm, with all it destroyed, re-set priorities.

“Family and safety and health are the most important,” Reichel said.

In addition to more than 15,000 grants for rebuilding, the state is also funding a portion of 10,000 house elevations on Long Island, and, so far, 160 home buyouts.

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