Sandy, 1 year later, remembered along East Coast
NEW YORK (AP) — Some lit candles in commemoration, others marched to remember. “Lights out” parties were held and volunteers fixed still-damaged homes.
In countless ways up and down the East Coast, survivors of Superstorm Sandy remembered the day, one year ago, when floodwaters poured across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore.
Sandy smacked into the East Coast, sending water surging into homes and businesses — and even taking lives.
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.
On Tuesday, a crisp but clear day exactly one year after the storm struck, many took stock of how far things have come. For others, there’s still a long road ahead and much work to be done. And for those who lost loved ones, the grief remains.
Here is a look at anniversary observances through a series of vignettes detailing how people commemorated the unprecedented storm:
At a beachside park on Staten Island, more than 1,000 people walked across the sand holding flashlights, glow sticks and candles to the water’s edge to commemorate the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.
Among them was Veronica Bifalco, who only moved back into her storm-damaged home last month— almost exactly a year after Sandy destroyed it.
Some set their lights afloat and others planted them in the sand. Bifalco said she remains optimistic, even though her house still lacks insulation and drywall.
“We’re going to get through this,” said Bifalco. “You know that, right?”
At Meade’s bar in the South Street Seaport, a “lights out” Sandy party was planned for Tuesday night to observe the historic neighborhood’s recovery.
“The neighbohood’s been here hundreds of years,” said owner Lee Holin. “It’s not going anywhere.”
Still, Holin’s mood wasn’t festive.
“I don’t just want to be the bar that survived Sandy,” he said as street artist friend who goes by the nickname “NDA” painted a mural in a stairwell above an eye-level water mark on the wall left by flooding.
Meade’s bar gained a loyal following by being one of the first businesses to open after the storm. But storefronts that went dark for months are starting to get new retail tenants willing to pay higher rents and charging customers more — in his eyes, bad news for the diehard locals.
Ken Mandelbaum remembered looking out of his Brooklyn apartment window at the lower part of Manhattan and not being able to see a single thing, Sandy’s surging waters causing massive power outages.
“It was completely dark, it was unreal,” he said Tuesday, joining a couple of dozen others at Brooklyn Bridge Park, where they held electric candles to mark the anniversary of Sandy’s landfall, a commemoration that was also being done in other parts of coastal New York City and along the New Jersey shore.
Mandelbaum and his wife, who live on the 12th floor off a building at the water’s edge, didn’t evacuate during Sandy and spent days without power, using the stairs to get up and down from their home to the street.
“There were 240 steps,” Susie Mandelbaum said. “I counted them.”
An accident of geography left Giuseppe and Innocenza Picheo of New Jersey with two properties to rebuild after Sandy: a primary home in Moonachie and a second home in Manahawkin on Long Beach Island. The Moonachie house had “never had a drop of water” in 43 years before Sandy, Giuseppe Picheo said Tuesday.
“Even now, I still think about it at night, before I go to sleep,” Innocenza Picheo said. “When I go downstairs to wash clothes, I still look around and think about the water rushing in.”
Giuseppe Picheo said he has been able to rebuild both properties and that volunteers from a local church group helped him clear debris and start to rebuild his Manahawkin home. But he knows others haven’t been as fortunate.
“I’m back to normal, but I feel very sorry for those who aren’t, especially now when you see all the images again,” he said.
A group of volunteers in neon orange T-shirts was busy at work outside a Freeport, Long Island, home on Tuesday afternoon, cutting pieces of tile and molding on power saws in the driveway and garage of the split-level ranch they were helping repair.
The volunteers are part of the Samaritan’s Purse organization, a charitable group founded by the Rev. Franklin Graham that helps with disaster relief throughout the country.
Samaritan’s Purse supervisor Kevin Vallas said volunteers have been on Long Island since the days immediately following Sandy. He said the group has rebuilt four homes and assisted with cleaning out and repairs on dozens of others, both in New York and New Jersey.
“I get my rewards in heaven. I’m a Christian,” explained David Ray, a married father of two from Chillicothe, Ohio. “We’re commanded to be the hands and feet of Jesus. What we’re showing people here is love.”
Beatrice Spagnuolo was one of 23 people on Staten Island who died when Superstorm Sandy struck.
The 79-year-old woman was killed when her Midland Beach home flooded.
On Tuesday, her son Vincent Spagnuolo joined about 200 others who marched on a Midland Beach boardwalk to honor the memory of those who died on Staten Island.
As bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” Vincent Spagnuolo said he still hadn’t gotten over his mother’s death. Spagnuolo’s own Staten Island home was also destroyed when Sandy struck.
Myra Camacho’s home in the Rockaways still has no electricity.
She spent nearly two months after Sandy trying to survive in her frigid, powerless home with her boyfriend, Walter Negron.
“We wrapped ourselves in blankets. We ate out of the churches,” Negron said.
They moved out after Camacho had a heart attack. She moved in with relatives. He’s been staying elsewhere.
Their luck might be about to change. The couple spent Tuesday morning with an inspector from a nonprofit housing group, who told them he could help with the restoration. He estimated it would cost $15,000.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’re going to take care of it,’” Camacho said. “I don’t know. We’ve heard things like this before. I’m hopeful.”
When Sandy darkened much of the city, some New Yorkers were only hours old. Others weren’t even born.
On Tuesday, babies filled a Manhattan hospital room to celebrate their first birthdays — and their survival. Their parents and hospital staff lighted candles atop cupcakes and sang, “Happy birthday, dear babies.”
Kenneth Hulett III weighed only 2 pounds when emergency medical workers rushed him out of the New York Hospital intensive care unit and down the stairs while hooked up to an oxygen tank. His mother, Emily Blatt, says her faith sustained her as she was evacuated on an orange sled.
That day, more than 40 babies were safety moved from the hospital to other facilities.
Associated Press reporters Wayne Parry in Seaside Park, N.J., David Porter in Little Ferry, N.J., Angela Delli Santi in Sayreville, N.J., Frank Eltman in Babylon, N.Y., and Eileen AJ Connelly, Verena Dobnik, Jake Pearson, Jonathan Lemire, David Caruso and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.