A year after Sandy, a slow recovery for thousands of people along East Coast

October 26, 2013

A year after Hurricane Sandy catastrophically flooded hundreds of miles of eastern U.S. coastline, thousands of people still trying to fix their soaked and surf-battered homes are being stymied by bureaucracy, insurance disputes and uncertainty over whether they can afford to rebuild.

Billions of dollars in federal aid appropriated months ago by Congress have yet to reach homeowners who need the money to move on. Many have found flood insurance checks weren’t nearly enough to cover damage.

And worse, new federal rules mean many in high-risk flood zones may have to either jack their houses up on stilts or pilings — expensive, and sometimes impossible — or face insurance premiums of $10,000 or more per year.

Floodwaters swept over densely populated barrier islands and pushed deep into bays and harbors from Atlantic City, N.J., to Rhode Island. In New York, the storm surge was nearly 14 feet high, sending the Hudson and East rivers pouring into the city’s subway and commuter tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan. Gas stations ran out of fuel. High-rise residents had to carry water up darkened stairwells. Thousands of fragile patients were evacuated from crippled hospitals and nursing homes.

There are tales of continuing frustration. For instance, in New Jersey, officials said that in the tiny seaside borough of Mantoloking, where the storm washed dozens of homes into Barnegat Bay, fewer than half the buildings in town had been re-inhabited.

On New York Staten Island, where 23 people died, vacant lots have been multiplying where homes once stood. Sheetrock and debris still strew lawns. Bungalows are covered by plywood, with “Restricted Use” signs hanging on their front doors.

While some beach towns quickly rebuilt seaside promenades and repaired beaches, Toms River, N.J., where hundreds of homes were destroyed, managed to rebuild only two blocks of boardwalk. Only a sliver of the town’s beach opened this summer. Beachgoers had to walk past rubble and still-to-be-torn-down houses to reach the sand.

The federal government has responded by pouring money into the region.

The Small Business Administration authorized $2.4 billion in disaster loans to more than 36,000 households and busi­nesses, though it has paid out only about a quarter of that to date as storm victims have tried to figure out whether they should take on more debt. FEMA gave $1.42 billion to help storm victims pay rent, replace lost possessions and make emergency repairs. The agency gave another $2.7 billion to help municipalities clean up debris, repair critical infrastructure and reopen damaged hospitals. The federal flood insurance program paid $7.8 billion to nearly 132,000 policyholders who sustained damage during the storm.

But for some people, is hasn’t been enough. Many had no flood insurance. And the process of getting federal aid money into people’s hands has been slow.

— Associated Press

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