Four years ago, Superstorm Sandy became the city’s most devastating natural disaster, knocking out power, destroying homes and causing a whopping $19 billion in damage.
But despite the time that has passed, some coastal neighborhoods are still trying to get back to normal.
The city began preparations for the then-Category 1 hurricane on Oct. 27, 2012, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency. The next day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of more than 375,000 New Yorkers living in coastal areas across the five boroughs, from the Rockaways to Coney Island to downtown Manhattan.
The MTA shut down the subway system to prevent damage to its infrastructure, but nothing could prepare the city for what it would face.
Storm surges rose above the coasts and flooded streets closest to the water. Winds blowing as high as 100 mph toppled trees, defaced the entire side of a building in Chelsea, and bent a construction crane backward while it was up 70 stories in the air.
Floodwaters destroyed a Con Edison station at 14th Street, which shut down the power for the lower half of Manhattan, affecting 600,000 households. Coney Island and the Rockaways were also hit with severe power outages during the storm.
When the floodwaters did recede, whole neighborhoods were left in ruins. Breezy Point suffered the worst damage when 50 homes were destroyed by a 10-alarm fire that broke out during the storm.
In total, 43 people were killed in New York City during Sandy, officials said.
The city quickly scrambled to get things back to normal; while the subways and power were mostly restored within the next month, the hardest hit zones took longer to recover. Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, along with various city agencies, like the buildings department, set up $20 billion in programs and initiatives to help affected New Yorkers rebuild and fortify their properties.
New building codes for coastal properties allowed their owners to raise homes and businesses to get them feet above FEMA’s updated flood map. The city moved more than 10,500 linear feet of bulkheads across the city and installed new dunes and sand along the beaches to protect the coasts from storm surges.
“There is progress everywhere,” said Daniel Zarrilli, the city’s chief resiliency officer. “Where we started from in a lot of cases was the point of zero. They had no protections whatsoever.”
Donovan Richards, the city councilman who represents the Rockaways, said residents have been relieved that their patience has started to pay off. The biggest sign of progress was the reopening of the first phase of the newly designed, and stronger, Rockaway boardwalk over the summer.
“The Rockaways has been a place that the city has turned its back on for decades, but they’re really working hard on getting us back to our feet,” Richards said.
Richards and other leaders, however, said there is still a long way to go, especially with the city’s Build it Back Program, an initiative aimed at providing homeowners financial help with their damaged properties. The program has drawn criticism over its lack of efficiency and slow speed. Last year the mayor set a deadline for the end of 2016 to get Build It Back’s single-family property projects completed, but there is little evidence that it will happen.
Of the Build It Back program’s 20,041 single-family home applicants, only 2,051 construction projects were completed and 5,721 reimbursement checks were written as of Oct. 16, according to the city. Out of the 12,637 multifamily applicants, 355 applications were completed and 448 checks were sent out.
In September, the mayor’s office said it needed $500 million more in federal funding to complete Build it Back construction.
“It doesn’t look like the houses will be raised at all,” said Eddie Mark, district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 13, which represents Coney Island. “We’ve been waiting for months and residents are growing tired and have made no progress.”
Amy Peterson, director of Build it Back, defended the program’s progress, noting that the infrastructure in each section of the city needed to be dealt with in a different way. Houses in Sheepshead Bay don’t have direct access to the street, while Coney Island and Carnarsie have row houses which require approval from neighbors for serious construction.
“All of that makes it complicated on how to elevate,” she said.
Peterson said Build it Back administrators have worked harder to engage and inform the community with expanded outreach and field offices in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. She added that they are emphasizing buyout options to residents.
“In a lot of cases, this is the best option,” she said.