A year after Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New York, Lovy Vargas still does not have a kitchen in her Meadowmere Park home.
Vargas, among many of the residents of her hard-hit community, lost their entire first floors when water rushed into their houses from the Oct. 29 storm. At least one Meadowmere home has been condemned and deemed unsafe, while another was knocked down outright.
Sandy was bad enough, but what many storm victims encountered after proved to be just as great of a struggle: navigating federal assistance or fighting their insurance companies while trying to get back on their feet and rebuild their homes. Finding contractors to do the work has also proved challenging.
“It’s still very hard for a lot of people around here. It’s one day at a time,” Vargas said. “You just make due. We just keep trucking, that’s what Meadowmere is about.”
A community struggle
Sandy affected everyone, through flood or falling tree limbs, the weeks or months without power or heat, long gas lines, being displaced or welcoming guests into your home or losing school or work days.
Along with Meadowmere, Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the Five Towns near water: Inwood, Woodmere, North Woodmere, the Hewletts and Cedarhurst. Those with the means were able to rebuild their homes and move on. But for many Five Towners, Sandy is still a lingering part of their lives.
“It seems that the people that ‘weathered’ the storm are still there and repairing the best that they can and with what funds allowed,” said Patty Vacchio, an Inwood resident who lost her first floor to the storm. “However, those that were unable to stay and the homes that did not have second stories or were otherwise unlivable have not returned.”
In all, Sandy is estimated to have caused more than $65 billion in damage, mostly in New York and New Jersey, making it the second costliest hurricane since 1900, according to the National Hurricane Center.
FEMA has provided more than $2.1 billion in aid to New York. Of that aid, about $20.3 million has gone to the Five Towns, including Atlantic Beach. FEMA aid covers losses not covered by insurance. More than 5,000 residents contacted FEMA for assistance or information. There are no specific estimates of damage to the Five Towns.
One question remains on everyone’s mind: Was Sandy a fluke, or will these storms be a more common occurrence?
Some measures have already been taken at the county level, including housing an emergency supply trailer at Number Six School and investigating flooding in the Five Towns. New York State launched the New York Rising program, which has alloted up to $27 million to parts of the Five Towns and $9 million to Atlantic Beach for storm-mitigation projects to be pitched by local residents.
Villages are also looking at ways to improve in emergency situations.
“This event has given us genuine cause to review infrastructure, drainage, and actively manage how we can better prevent damage while residing so geographically close to the water,” said Lee Israel, mayor of Woodsburgh.
Legislator Howard Kopel said the biggest pain point, other than the devastation to homes, was the failure of LIPA and the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, which spewed waste into Reynolds Channel and backed up into people’s homes after being hit by a 9-foot wave.
“We need to harden the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s not practical to raise every house.”
He urged the completion of repairs at Bay Park and suggested that electrical wires be raised, hardened or buried to avoid damage.
Superintendent Gary Schall of the Lawrence School District, which shut down Lawrence High School for weeks due to storm damage, said Sandy jolted entities to work together.
“What we understand now is we have to always be preparing for the worst case scenario,” he said. “The community at large is very much aware of that. The level of planning between municipalities is like it’s never been before.”
Vacchio, of Inwood, stressed that preventing Sandy-like conditions is vital.
“I realize the reality if such a storm of that magnitude were to hit again there is little we can do prevent similar destruction,” she said. “However, speaking for much of my area in particular, we can flood in more simpler storms. We need to save our neighborhoods before damage occurs because many people can't after the fact.”