Volunteers plant beach grass on a newly constructed sand dune along the beach in the Breezy Point neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York, Tuesday, a year after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the region.
NEW YORK — Survivors of Superstorm Sandy were still displaced from wrecked homes a year after the storm made landfall, but repairs persisted even on the storm’s anniversary.
Mothers sang “Happy Birthday” to their 1-year-old babies who were rescued from darkened hospitals at the height of the storm. Homeowners watched with awe as volunteers put their houses back together. Other survivors wondered when they would finally have some resolution to the challenges they still face.
Sandy came ashore on Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore. In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city’s subway and commuter rail tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.
The storm was blamed for at least 181 deaths in the U.S. — including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey — and property damages estimated at $65 billion.
Here is a look at anniversary observances through a series of vignettes detailing how people are commemorating the unprecedented storm:
nAiman Youssef found out the other day that one of his neighbors has been living in his own Staten Island garage.
He says many people in his shorefront neighborhood are still displaced or living in partially restored homes, often without basic facilities.
“A lot of people have moved out of the area,” Youssef said. “A lot of houses went into foreclosure.”
Some homeowners are still reluctant to accept help, Youssef said, while others have been stymied by bureaucracy. He pointed to a bungalow across the street from his tent on Midland Avenue.
A woman is living there without heat despite a city program that was supposed to restore heat, electric and water service, he said.
“We were lower middle class,” Youssef said. “Now we’re poor.”
n When Sandy darkened much of the city, some New Yorkers were only hours old. Others weren’t even born.
On Tuesday, babies filled a Manhattan hospital room to celebrate their first birthdays — and their survival.
Kenneth Hulett III weighed only 2 pounds when emergency medical workers rushed him out of the New York Hospital intensive care unit and down the stairs while hooked up to an oxygen tank. His mother, Emily Blatt, says her faith carried her through as she was evacuated on an orange sled.
That day, more than 40 babies were safety moved from the hospital to other facilities.
On Tuesday, their parents and hospital staff lighted candles atop cupcakes and sang, “Happy birthday, dear babies.”
n The uneven nature of the recovery can be seen in places like the working-class Arverne section of the Rockaways, where many people are living in damaged homes they can’t afford to fully repair.
“When you drive around, it looks as if everything is OK. But everything is far from OK,” said pastor David Cockfield of the Battalion Pentecostal Assembly Church. “There is so much that is not being done.”
Residents and members of Cockfield’s congregation had a list of grievances Tuesday: While the city has been building flood defenses on the wealthier, beach side of the railroad tracks that split the peninsula, the mostly black neighborhood at the edge of Jamaica Bay has no sea wall or storm sewers, and it floods frequently with stinking water.
Moses Williams said the finished basement in his home is still a wreck because he can’t afford the $50,000 repair bill.
“You can smell the mold,” he said.
n A tear trickled down Edward Chaloupka’s cheek as he looked out on Long Island’s Great South Bay and reflected on the year since Sandy struck.
“I woke up with a nightmare last night,” said the marine mechanic of Babylon, N.Y., who lost his job and home after the storm.
In the dream, Chaloupka saw boats drifting down the street. He said it has been difficult finding work as a marine mechanic because people are still fixing their homes.
“There’s not a whole heck of a lot,” he said. “You’re fixing your house before a boat.”
As for the future?
“I don’t know,” Chaloupka said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
nAngela Morabito feels like she and her husband, Philip, have been on “one roller coaster ride after another” for the past year.
But she could finally see some progress Tuesday, as two dozen volunteers from Staten Island’s Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the St. Bernard Project from New Orleans installed insulation and sheet rock in her gutted Midland Beach house on the southeastern shore of Staten Island.
Morabito is grateful for the free labor. She had flood and homeowners insurance but lost much of what she was paid to an unscrupulous contractor who abandoned the job.
“I feel like this is a start to something better,” she said. “Finally, one of my prayers is answered. I’m going to have walls! I’m going to have floors to walk on!”
n The lobby of the Wall Street Inn, a boutique hotel located in a 19th-century building in lower Manhattan, was lonely and empty. But manager Rachel Fogel said business is steady again despite initial fears that the hotel started by her grandfather might never come back.
The hotel was evacuated as the storm hit. The scene on South William Street the next day was discouraging, she said.
“It was dark. It was cold. It smelled like gasoline,” Fogel said.
Weeks of work was needed on basement electrical and heating systems before the hotel reopened in December. Contractors were the first post-storm guests.
Now the regulars are back. One was a man who came back months later to retrieve dry cleaning he sent on the eve of Sandy.
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