As New York commemorates the one-year anniversary of Sandy, many parts of the city are well on the path to recovery: The subways are almost back to normal, many shuttered businesses in lower Manhattan have reopened, and aid money continues to flow in from the government.
But for the people who live in the areas that were hardest-hit by the storm, any type of normalcy is still all but a pipe dream, as about 22,000 residents are still displaced from the storm, on top of some 5,000 undocumented renters still displaced, according to aid groups.
We spoke with four families who are still suffering from the damage Sandy brought, all of whom are still displaced or only beginning their recovery.
For the past seven months, Steve Sumner, 59, has called a used camping trailer home. With his wife and six cats, he has suffered through unbearable heat and cold fall nights, wiring in electricity when he can and often forgoing showers to conserve water.
The trailer is parked in the back yard of his Staten Island ranch-style home on Maple Terrace, in which the Sumners had lived for 23 years before ruinous damage during Sandy forced them out. Storm floods left 40 inches of standing water inside, destroying everything from the appliances and furniture to the floors and walls.
“Everything I had was destroyed,” Sumner said. “Everything. O.K.? Everything. We had nothing left of the life made for ourselves.”
Before moving into the trailer, Sumner bounced around friends’ houses and a temporary apartment.
Insurance estimated the cost to repair his house at $385,000, and between AllState Insurance, FEMA and a handful of other organizations, he has received about $69,000. Two weeks before the storm Sumner retired from the MTA, and his wife is now working two jobs to help them stay afloat, but the money just isn’t there, he said.
Sumner is hoping for help from charities, but without a clear idea of when they may get around to him or the funds to fix his house himself, he has no idea when he may return.
“They’re still playing games and stalling rather than just giving us the money,” he said of insurance and the government. “The money has run out.”
Among the people still suffering most in Sandy’s wake are undocumented immigrants, who are ineligible for most government aid. As a result, many have been left to fend for themselves, including Lulu Vasquez, 32, whose home in Midland Beach which was a block way from the water and leveled by Sandy.
Vasquez and her two children, ages 15 and 8, have been renting an apartment in Bulls Head that costs $450 more than her she was paying at her home. Because her options after the storm were few, Vasquez had to settle for this apartment – which doesn’t have hot water and had rotting carpet when they moved in – and work more than 70 hours a week to make rent.
“Because the rent is so high I have to work so much and I cannot go places with my children or spend time with them and I often have to leave them home alone,” Vasquez said through a translator at a recent rally organized by the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding to call attention to the so-called “tale of two recoveries.”
“More than anything I want to spend more time with them,” she said.
Vasquez, a member of Make the Road New York, which assists undocumented immigrants, said she felt discriminated against while searching for a place to stay, and that she just wants to go home.
“I would like to return to my community in Midland Beach and live in peace,” she said.
In Breezy Point, hundreds of families are still struggling to bring their homes to the state it was in before Oct. 29.
Most of the 135 houses burned in the fire are still in ruins, and the hundreds of other properties on the east side of the neighborhood are still undergoing construction.
Jim Galvin, 40, has done just enough renovations to his 12-year-old home that he, his wife and three kids are able are to live there again.
“We’re trying to get back to normalcy,” Galvin, who works for the city, said as he cleaned up his front deck last week.
But work on his house is far from over, at least one room still needs major repairs and he has come up against insulation problems as he restores the interior. Galvin said the process has been relatively smooth,but there have been hiccups along the way and mountains of paperwork when it comes to government aid.
“There’s a lot of red tape with the permits and the funding,” he said.
Galvin, however, had praised the support he’s received from people around the world.
“The volunteers who came here have been above and beyond,” he said.
Bobby Young considers himself one of the lucky ones: This summer he was able to move back into his home after “well over” $100,000 in repairs to gut and fix it, while about half of the homes on his block in Broad Channel are still abandoned.
But luck is a relative term. On top of still waiting on money from insurance, Young’s backyard is still in ruins after equipment from a nearby fishing station ripped through and destroyed his deck, fencing, shed and the lawn.
“It’s depressing, it weighs on you emotionally,” Young, 52, a member of union UFCW Local 342 said. “It’s easy to shed a tear at any given moment. I could just look at my house right now, and I’m looking at where three feet of water was in my house a year ago.”
Young, who has lived for nine years in the home with his wife, said his house won’t be fully restored until at least the spring, and that his community is in far worse condition than he is.
“You take one step forward, you take two steps back because something else pops up” during repairs, he said. “People are getting back on their feet, but it’s just so, so slow.”
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