Hurricane Sandy: One Year Later

Feature: Victims of Sandy struggle to put their lives back together
Superstorm Then And Now, Breezy Point, NY / AP

Superstorm Then And Now, Breezy Point, NY / AP


One year ago Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast leaving an unparalleled path of destruction in its wake. The nation’s second-costliest storm affected millions across two dozen states, and today many are still dealing with the storm’s aftermath.

Many towns in New York and New Jersey continue to show Sandy’s effects, and their recovery is far from complete. A drive through towns such as Union Beach, Sea Bright, and Highlands show some homes still in disrepair, many empty lots where homes once stood, and businesses shuttered or listed for sale.

Some flooded-out businesses and homes still have not been torn down, despite the storm making landfall on October 29, 2012.

A new report showed that 533 of the 565 municipalities in New Jersey reported damage. More than 325,000 houses were damaged and billions of dollars were lost in the commercial sector and in workers’ wages. Thirty-three towns are dealing with a loss of more than 5 percent of their tax base.

Sandy also took an emotional toll on residents. The state reported more than 200,000 New Jersey residents received counseling services in the past year from a hotline launched for Sandy victims.

Staten Island resident Vince Accetta was first interviewed by the Free Beacon days after the storm hit. He was wearing someone else’s shoes, and described his family’s escape from the rising flood waters. He also blasted Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s initial decision to hold the New York City Marathon as bodies were still being recovered.

Accetta said he moved back into his house three months ago, but his neighborhood has yet to fully recover.

“The neighborhood is still feeling the effects of the storm,” Accetta said. Many homes have been knocked down and others are still under repair.

“The police still patrol the streets every night with lights flashing,” Accetta said. For those still in need, a community group that is set up on his street is giving out food and clothes. It’s a reminder that many are still in need of the basic necessities, one year after the storm.

“The past year was by far the longest of my life. This isn’t something you ever get over,” Accetta said. “It destroyed everything we owned, and it crippled us financially.”

New York resident Billy Stout, who was living out of his car when first interviewed by the Free Beacon, said he is still in temporary housing.

“In talking to people, my assessment is 70 percent of the people are still not doing well,” Stout said. “The storm has taken a toll on people. I’ve heard of some people who got divorced as a result of Sandy.”

Even after a year, Stout said Sandy’s impact is still very much evident.

“There are so many people who can’t get back on their feet. It took them years to save to buy a small home, and in one day it was all gone,” said Stout.

Stout lost his personal belongings, including photos that can never be replaced. However, he said his loss means so little when he remembers the two children torn from their mother’s hands during the storm. Their bodies were recovered days later, and that image remains ingrained in his mind.

“With all the stuff I did lose, I didn’t lose much when I saw those two kid’s lives lost. I hardly lost anything in comparison,” Stout said. “I thank God I’m alive.”

Staney Depczek, a firefighter in Nutley, N.J., was initially interviewed six months after the storm and was blasting FEMA for the chaos surrounding flood elevation maps. He had closed on his Toms River home three weeks before Sandy hit and never spent a night in the house.

He still hasn’t.

Depczek said the repairs to his home continue, and they should be completed within the next two months.

“I’m going to spend a night in the damn house,” Depczek said. “I’m getting there, slowly but surely.”

Depczek pointed out many homes in his neighborhood are still in disrepair.

“I’m a lot better off than a lot of people,” said Depczek. He said the biggest obstacle to rebuilding and recovery has been “the lack of leadership. No one was saying this is what you need to do.”

Depczek still isn’t sure if he will be required to elevate his home due to new flood insurance regulations; he said he’d deal with that once he gets a definitive answer.

“We basically lost a year,” Depczek said. “All my goals for the last year are now my goals for this year.”

Breezy Point resident Richie O’Connor said his plans have now changed as a result of Sandy. He planned on retiring this past summer, but he was forced to use his retirement savings to repair his home. He said FEMA and the SBA denied him any help.

The $50,000 he collected from his flood insurance policy did not cover all of the damage in his home.

He said the biggest obstacle to rebuilding and recovery was “the government. FEMA did nothing for us,” he said. “They told us to go to SBA and they did nothing for us.”

O’Connor also blasted Bloomberg’s Rapid Repair Program, saying he had to redo all the plumbing and electrical work done by the workers in the mayor’s signature program.

“They were clowns,” O’Connor said of the workers.

He praised a nonprofit foundation, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which delivered all he needed to repair his home within a week of him applying for help.

“Thousands of dollars of supplies, sheetrock, joint compound, tape, whatever I needed to do the work in my house, was delivered in a week,” O’Connor said.

He indicated his experience showed the difference between how the private sector works without red tape and much more efficiently than the government.

Health issues continue to be a concern for some Sandy victims. Toms River, N.J. resident Elaine Kelly, a former nurse, has now become an advocate for Sandy victims and possible health issues related to mold exposure.

Kelly herself has suffered from mold-related illnesses for years. She started an online group, “All Things Mold, an Environmental Discussion Group” to alert Sandy victims to the danger of mold. The group has grown to more than 500 members.

Kelly said over a dozen people have already contacted her, believing they are experiencing mold-related illnesses from Sandy. “My greatest fear right now is that a lot of homes were not remediated correctly and have mold,” Kelly said.

“I’ve spoken to people who are becoming ill right now,” Kelly said. “I learned a home will mean nothing if you don’t have your health.”

She has been trying to raise awareness of the dangers of mold and let people know about the symptoms and where they can turn for help.

“God is good. I’m debilitated most of the time, dealing with my own illness. But I asked God, how can I help the Sandy victims?” She now has found a way to help. She said Sandy victims “now they are finding me somehow, reaching out, and I am trying to help them before they become as sick as I am.”

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