Eight Years Since Hurricane Sandy And There’s Still More Work To Be Done

It's raining outside, so let's pretend there's a storm tomorrow. Will there be floods? Yes. Will people's basements get flooded? Yes. Will the power go out? Yes.

A fallen tree in Bensonhurst after Hurricane Sandy hit the city. (Photo via Mike/Flickr Creative Commons)

BROOKLYN – Today marks eight years since Hurricane Sandy crashed into New York City’s shoreline. It caused 43 deaths and $19 billion in widespread devastation. Thousands of people lost their homes. Years later, the effects of the storm still linger, and much more work needs to be done.

Marisol Guzman, 45, is a neighbor from Coney Island. Eight years ago, her basement was flooded and completely destroyed. Her family was able to get it fixed two years later, but even now, water makes its way down every time it floods.

“It doesn’t seem like eight years have gone by. Honestly, it feels like yesterday the hurricane hit. All of our photo albums were destroyed. Yes they are just physical objects, but they were our memories, you know? I am grateful me and my family are safe. But sometimes I want to relive a memory and I go to look for the album and I remember there is none because it was washed away,” she told Bklyner over the phone. “This is the kind of stuff you watch in movies. Or something you see on the news taking place in another city. Not Brooklyn.”

When we asked if she thinks the city is safer now, she lightly laughed and said no.

“It’s raining outside, so let’s pretend there’s a storm tomorrow. Will there be floods? Yes. Will people’s basements get flooded? Yes. Will the power go out? Yes,” she said. “I am not even exaggerating. The only reason I am still living in this neighborhood, in the same home, is because it’s the only thing I have left of my parents. But I fear that it’ll break down the next time there’s a hurricane. I fear the entire neighborhood will.”

Council Member Mark Treyger’s district was one of the many that were hit the hardest. In the eight years since the storm hit his district, Treyger believes that much progress has been made.

In 2014, Treyger and NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was the former Health Committee Chair, sent a letter to FEMA and Mayor Bill de Blasio demanding an explanation as to why FEMA is shortchanging public medical facilities that were hit hardest by the storm. Afterward, FEMA committed at least $1.6 billion to repair and protect damaged public hospitals. The $1.6 billion also went toward four public hospitals in the city including $923 million for Coney Island Hospital.

In 2015, the NYC Council Committee on Recovery and Resiliency held the first-ever hearing inside a NYCHA building at Carey Gardens in Coney Island with the Chair of the Committee on Public Housing. Following the hearing, $3 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was granted to NYCHA to rebuild damaged housing stock and build a more resilient structure.

In 2018, Treyger’s office partnered up with NHS Brooklyn —a non-profit organization that creates and preserves affordable housing— to expand the free home elevation certificate program to Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods. The program also offered select participants in eligible communities free backwater valve installation to reduce the risk of flood-related sewage backup into their homes.

“This is significant because most property owners paying flood insurance are overpaying and obtaining an elevation certificate can cost over $700 to appeal to your insurance company to pay a lower premium,” Treyger said. “We saved them close to $1,000 and ensured homeowners are not being overcharged for flood insurance costs.”

And then there is the Build it Back program by The NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations (HRO),  which has helped 12,500 families recover from Hurricane Sandy “by providing resources for impacted New Yorkers to repair, rebuild, and elevate their homes, or relocate.”

“During the darkest hours of Superstorm Sandy, we also saw the brightest of our humanity. We saw a network of support organically form to help one another,” Treyger wrote on Facebook. “Challenges remain and lives remain impacted, but I want to share some of the progress we have made together. The storm was a motivating factor for me to run for office because my family, my neighbors, my friends, and my community partners were all greatly impacted.”

However, there is more to be done to become truly resilient, Treyger says:

  • Develop a regional resiliency plan and lobby the federal government to reactivate the New York and New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study, halted by the current administration in February 2020.
  • Congress needs to help fund an infrastructure bill that incorporates resiliency funding for Southern Brooklyn to better protect life, property, and affordability.
  • Make sure we learn the lessons of the many painful bureaucratic failures during Sandy’s recovery. One such example is granting flexibility to organizations like Habitat for Humanity to take on greater housing recovery caseloads.
  • Support policies lowering the city’s carbon footprint and reducing impacts that exacerbate climate change.
  • Support public schools in building capacity to prepare a future green-tech workforce.

“All the smart people agree, these storms are only getting worse, and we need to prepare for a future climate that will be more volatile than anything this city has ever seen,” Bay Ridge Council Member Justin Brannan, who is the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, said.

“It’s my job to push City Hall to do more when it comes to being ready for the next storm. The city’s leadership didn’t respond to Sandy’s wakeup call, and still hasn’t. But it is not too late. Yet. But today I am reflecting upon how we all came together in the days and weeks after Sandy. Neighbors helped neighbors. Strangers helped strangers. No question asked. It was a beautiful thing.”

State Senator Andrew Gounardes agrees and says that though the hurricane brought devastation, it also brought people together.

“The storm devastated our communities — and thousands of our neighbors lost their homes. All these years later, we STILL have neighbors who haven’t been able to move back into their homes. It was with storms like Sandy in mind that we passed the Climate and Community Protection Act to act on climate—but there’s much more to do. We have to invest in resiliency to prepare for future storms and ensure our neighborhoods never go through this again,” he said.

“As is typical of our neighborhoods, the storm’s devastation brought people together to help. In the aftermath, I joined local community leaders to found Bay Ridge Cares, to serve hot meals to those who had been displaced by the storm. It is important on this somber anniversary to also remember and rekindle that spirit of volunteerism, love, and civic engagement. We can get through hard times as long as we’re getting through them together.”

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Zainab Iqbal

Zainab is a staff reporter at Bklyner who sometimes writes poetry in her free time || zainab@bklyner.com

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