Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.
The Oct. 29, 2012, storm, which was spawned when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, devastated the oceanfront coastline.
The second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy arrived Wednesday in a region where recovery in New Jersey and New York is happening unevenly, with many houses, boardwalks and businesses rebuilt but many people still unable to return to their homes.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and federal officials toured a flood-ravaged neighborhood near Raritan Bay in Union Beach where many residents are struggling to rebuild. Andrea Kassimatis held her 6-month-old daughter as she described living with four other relatives in a 37-foot trailer next to a partially built home.
“It’s been a rough and grueling process,” she said. “You feel like your government has forgotten you.”
Kassimatis has received a $150,000 rebuilding grant from New Jersey but only got a third of what her flood insurance policy was supposed to pay — a common refrain up and down the coast.
“Don’t believe what you have from a flood insurance policy,” she warned. “Because what you’re sold is not what you’re going to get.”
She voiced her complaints to Castro, to New Jersey’s two U.S. senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, and to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., all of whom said more “accountability and transparency” is needed in Sandy aid distribution. At an event in Perth Amboy, state Senate President Steve Sweeney said, “People still aren’t getting the answers they deserve.”
The Oct. 29, 2012, storm, which was spawned when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, devastated the oceanfront coastline and caused catastrophic flooding in New York and cities in New Jersey, including Hoboken and Jersey City. It was blamed for at least 182 deaths and $65 billion in damage in the U.S.
In New Jersey, the Fair Share Housing Center faulted the pace of aid distribution, saying only $220 million of the $1.1 billion the state has received for its main rebuilding grant program is in the hands of homeowners.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, while defending his administration’s handling of the rebuilding, tangled with a heckler who was critical of those efforts. The often combative governor told heckler Jim Keady, who interrupted his speech several times to criticize the pace of storm aid assistance: “Sit down and shut up.”
“It seems like a lot longer than two years,” Christie said after the incident was over. “This has been a long, long two years and a long struggle. Time doesn’t move as quickly as we might like it to.”
Christie said his administration will keep working until everyone who needs help gets it.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio joined City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other elected officials to work with Habitat for Humanity at a storm-damaged home in Brooklyn. The group has helped rebuild 100 homes in New York. In the afternoon, he toured a Staten Island neighborhood named Ocean Breeze and recounted the destruction.
“This borough, this island, in many ways bore the brunt of the storm: 44 lives lost due to Sandy, 23 from Staten Island,” he said. “A lot of pain, and a lot of memory. We are now safer than we were two years ago, that is a matter of fact. But we have a lot more to do. I can say with assurance, when we gather a year from now, we will be safer than we were in 2014.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state has supported the repair and rebuilding of nearly 10,000 households, provided $20.8 million in grants to small businesses and facilitated the proposal of approximately 600 projects through the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program.
Here is a look at other parts of New Jersey hard-hit by the storm:
It’s been hard enough living in a trailer next to an unfinished house for the past year and a half as her family struggled to rebuild their Union Beach home after Superstorm Sandy. But the most difficult part for Andrea Kassimatis has been taking care of her 6-month-old daughter and two young sons in cramped quarters.
“It’s five people in a 37-foot trailer,” she said. “They’re growing up right on top of each other; no one has any space for themselves. It’s been very stressful.”
Kassimatis and her family took up residence in the trailer in March 2013 after moving five times among relatives’ homes or rental units. They are still waiting on their house to be rebuilt.
“We’ve exhausted our insurance, we’ve exhausted the grant money, we’re paying to rent a trailer, and we’re paying a mortgage and property taxes on a home we can’t live in yet. And now that the weather is getting colder, we’re going to be spending $20 a day on propane.”
Brook Avenue in Union Beach was one of the hardest-hit streets in one of the hardest-hit communities at the Jersey shore, and life is only slowly starting to return to it. On the corner lot shortly after the storm, a sign proclaimed “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Today, a house occupies the lot, jacked way up in the air on 25-foot-tall pilings to keep it above the next inevitable flood.
Two doors down, another newly rebuilt house sits on a solid cement foundation just as tall. Next to that, the brick wall and picket fence of a destroyed home looks exactly as it did after the storm, except the family photos and miscellaneous possessions that were scattered around it are gone now.
But the other side of the street is entirely vacant and depopulated. Where homes once were, building supplies now sit.
A Union Beach house sheared in half by the Raritan Bay surf provided one of the iconic images of the storm’s aftermath. It was demolished in December 2012, and the lot is still vacant, surrounded by a chain-link fence and covered with neatly mowed grass. Across the street, a new home is complete, with an SUV in the driveway. For blocks around, the sound of construction vehicles backing up can be heard, as can the omnipresent drone of portable generators powering rebuilding projects.
In Perth Amboy, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, criticized Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration over its handling of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Sweeney said just a fraction of the federal aid given to the state has been distributed to those in need and Christie has failed to implement an integrity-monitor program aimed at maintaining transparency. The program is up and running, but its reports lack key information, Sweeney said.
“The money’s there, and the federal government provided the funding. So why don’t I have it?” Sweeney said residents were asking themselves.