As Hurricane Sandy clean-up continues, some communities may be beyond repair
Hurricane Sandy stormed into New York nearly three months ago, but the recovery effort has been uneven and continues to consume neighbourhoods in the worst-affected coastal areas.
“The reality of Sandy is just starting to settle,” says Pat Riley, an Irish-born contractor who emigrated to New York City 20 years ago. “My block has 13 houses. There are only two people living on it now – and one woman really shouldn’t be, but she’s nowhere else to go.”
Island Park village, just across the bridge from the heavily Irish Long Beach community, has been the Rileys’ home for the past seven years.
Since Sandy, they rent an apartment a two-hour drive away, across the Hudson River and northwest of Manhattan.
Riley says he spent years building his now-destroyed family home. “It’s like what the Incredible Hulk left behind in a fit of rage. Every penny I spent, gone in two hours.”
Riley, partnered with a friend who is a private insurance adjuster, recently launched the Compass Restoration group to continue to help his neighbours rebuild.
Although the US Congress, under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey, adopted legislation in early January that would provide $9.7 billion (€7 billion) to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed, Riley says many people in his neighbourhood were not insured, or had virtually “useless” flood insurance.
“People just aren’t covered,” he said.
For him, the worst part is the thought that his community, like his house, could be damaged beyond repair.
“My biggest fear is people from wherever buying up houses for pennies to the dollar, buying two or three and knocking them down to build summer mansions, with no regard for giving back to the local community,” says Riley.
After the superstorm struck on October 29th, New York City experienced its worst floods for more than a century. Some 300,000 homes were destroyed and more than two million people were left without power.
In Long Beach, about 40 per cent of the population has not returned since Sandy; there is little to come back to. Houses inundated by the storm surge are still waterlogged and mouldering.
“It’s a ghost town,” says Nancy Black, a second-generation Irish-American and firefighter from Long Beach’s West End community.
Black was on duty as a first responder on the night of the hurricane, and she says that, in her 24-year career, it was the worst she has seen.