NEW YORK — Still shaken by the memories of Superstorm Sandy’s frightening tidal surge, survivors came together Tuesday to rebuild and remember the day that changed their lives forever.
Devastated residents recalled the help they got from strangers in the days and months after the storm. Some have mostly recovered from the storm, while others are still homeless or living without heat. In one touching moment, mothers sang “Happy birthday” to their 1-year-old babies who were rescued from darkened hospitals at Sandy’s peak.
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 182 deaths in the U.S. — including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey — and property damage estimated at $65 billion.
One year after Sandy, what Ellen Bednarz of Sayreville, N.J., remembered most was the kindness of the debris haulers who carted away the family’s ruined possessions.
“I never saw more caring people,” she said at an event to thank firefighters who used boats to rescue scores of people.
Before the storm hit, Bednarz and her family hastily moved their patio set, family room and office furniture to a storage unit and checked into a hotel. Only when they were allowed back to their split-level days later did they see the water had risen 14 feet — destroying everything, even the items the family had moved upstairs.
Bednarz is renting an apartment and waiting to close on a government home buyout.
“It’s over,” she said. “It’s probably one of the worst years of my life, but it’s behind me.”
Aiman 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.
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.