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Superstorm Sandy survivors recall challenges of past year

Published October 29, 2013 10:54 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New York • The trauma inflicted by Superstorm Sandy's fierce floodwaters was etched on the faces of many homeowners Tuesday, a year after the storm made landfall, as they recalled the challenges they have faced during the past year.

Rebuilding efforts continued throughout New York and New Jersey even as people stopped to reflect on what was lost.

Sandy made landfall at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore. In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city's subway and commuter rail tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.

The storm was blamed for at least 181 deaths in the U.S. — including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey — and property damages estimated at $65 billion.

A tiny tear trickled down Edward Chaloupka's cheek as he looked out on Long Island's Great South Bay and reflected on the year since Sandy struck.

"I woke up with a nightmare last night," said the marine mechanic of Babylon, N.Y., who lost his job and his home after the storm.

In the dream, Chaloupka saw boats drifting down the street. He said it has been difficult finding work as a marine mechanic because people are still fixing their homes.

"There's not a whole heck of a lot," he said. "You're fixing your house before a boat."

As for the future?

"I don't know," Chaloupka said. "I don't know what's going to happen."

At the Staten Island Ferry building, crews of workers still labored to repair elevators and escalators knocked out by Sandy.

Across the street at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, visitors were offered special pamphlets requesting donations to complete repairs on the electrical and heating systems. Photos showing the church in disarray after the storm are misleading, said secretary Diane Ricci.

"It was 10,000 times worse," she said.

Still, Ricci, who's lived in lower Manhattan her whole life, scoffed at the idea that New Yorkers should brace for a repeat of Sandy.

"You can't build a wall around Manhattan," she said. "This was once in a blue moon. ... It was the placement of the moon and the tides. That's it."

Angela Morabito feels like she and her husband, Philip, have been on "one roller coaster ride after another" for the past year.

But she could finally see some progress Tuesday, as two dozen volunteers from Staten Island's Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the St. Bernard Project from New Orleans installed insulation and sheet rock in her gutted Midland Beach house on the southeastern shore of Staten Island.

Morabito is grateful for the free labor. She had flood and homeowners insurance but lost much of what she was paid to an unscrupulous contractor who abandoned the job.

"I feel like this is a start to something better," she said. "Finally, one of my prayers is answered. I'm going to have walls! I'm going to have floors to walk on!"

The couple hopes to be back in their home in another month.

It doesn't take much for Robert Schipf of Babylon, N.Y., to become emotional when he thinks about the recovery from Sandy, which inundated his two-story Long Island home with about 2 feet of water.

"For me, the easiest word to describe it is 'helpless,'" Schipf said as he choked back a tear in the foyer of the recently renovated house, where new floor tiles have been laid and walls have been replaced.

The repairs cost him about $110,000.

Schipf and his family spent nearly 11 months staying with relatives as their home was fixed.

"We couldn't get straight answers from anyone," he said.

The frustration mounted as he dealt with local, state and federal agencies — as well as insurance underwriters — who could not provide adequate answers.

"None of the insurance companies were ready for this magnitude of storm," he said.

Debbie Fortier, of Brick, N.J., drove to Seaside Park hoping to speak with Gov. Chris Christie, who was visiting several Sandy-ravaged towns. Walking out arm-in-arm with him after he finished speaking at the firehouse, she told Christie how her family's house had to be torn down and how her family has yet to receive any aid.

"We're physically, emotionally and spiritually just drained," she said after Christie left. "Does anybody hear us?"

She said she is on a waiting list "for everything" and is particularly bitter that her family started to repair their storm-damaged house, only to have inspectors later tell them it was too badly damaged to fix. They then had to knock it down and move into a friend's basement.

"How long am I supposed to wait?" she asked. "It's been a year. You can't just not move forward."

Yet Fortier said she takes Christie at his word that help is on the way — whenever that might be.