Four years af­ter storm, some places will never be the same

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Ula Ilnytzky As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers Frank Eltman, Karen Matthews and Wayne Parry con­trib­uted to this re­port.

For four years, peo­ple have worked hard and mostly suc­cess­fully to erase the deep scars Su­per­storm Sandy left on the New York and New Jer­sey coast­lines when it crashed ashore with deadly force on Oct. 29, 2012.

But re­cov­ery will never come to Oak­wood Beach, among sev­eral places along the coast that have seen per­ma­nent changes wrought by the storm.

The Staten Is­land neigh­bor­hood, im­prob­a­bly built on a salt marsh, is slowly be­ing re­turned to na­ture af­ter state of­fi­cials con­cluded it would be fool­ish to re­build in a place with so lit­tle pro­tec­tion from the ocean.

Un­der a state buy­out pro­gram, 196 homes have been de­mol­ished. An­other 103 will soon meet the same fate.

A few res­i­dents re­main. But on one re­cent visit, there was no one on the streets, no chil­dren play­ing and few cars go­ing by. Many of the houses still stand­ing are boarded up and plas­tered with signs that say “no tres­pass­ing.”

“We’re go­ing to stay here as long as we can,” said Con­nie Martinez, 61. “My hus­band is a very sick man. He had a stroke. He loves his yard. He loves his gar­den.”

Yet, a buy­out may still be in her fu­ture, said Martinez, who had three neigh­bors drown dur­ing the storm.

“The con­sen­sus of all my neigh­bors is they never should have built houses here,” she said. “It should have been left wet­lands.”

Changes have come to other parts of the coast­line, some big, some lit­er­ally hid­den in the sand.

In Man­tolok­ing, New Jer­sey, a shore town that saw nearly all of its 521 homes dam­aged or de­stroyed, a huge steel wall has been erected on the beach and then buried, in most places, un­der man­made dunes to keep the surf from reach­ing ocean­front homes dur­ing fu­ture storms.

In Sea­side Heights, made in­fa­mous by the MTV re­al­ity show “Jer­sey Shore,” au­thor­i­ties still plan to re­build an amuse­ment park that had its roller coaster swept into the surf by the storm. But the town gave up on re­turn­ing the park to a pier that jut­ted out into the wa­ter, opt­ing in­stead for a new lo­ca­tion on the beach.

The bar­rier is­land city of Long Beach, New York, had its only full-ser­vice hospi­tal de­stroyed by flood­ing. The med­i­cal cen­ter was re­placed last year by a smaller emer­gency depart­ment op­er­ated by an off-is­land com­mu­nity hospi­tal.

But af­ter four years of re­build­ing, few places have as stark a then-and-now look as Oak­wood Beach.

Not even the foun­da­tions re­main of the seven homes that once stood on ei­ther side of Martinez’s house. All that’s there now are empty patches of green grass, which the state is still pay­ing to have mown un­til the last res­i­dents leave.

Signs of for­mer life can still be glimpsed here and there: ex­te­rior Christ­mas lights on one house, a chil­dren’s play­set and col­lapsed tram­po­line at an­other. But they’re marked for de­mo­li­tion with splashes of red paint.

“As soon as there’s a buy­out, they au­to­mat­i­cally throw up the boards, put the locks on the doors so there’s no tres­pass­ing and in­trud­ers,” said Joe Gior­dano, an en­gi­neer with NorthStar, the state con­trac­tor over­see­ing the de­mo­li­tion. “All those that are boarded up will come down in the next year to year and a half.”

In the north­ern­most sec­tion of the neigh­bor­hood, where dam­age was less se­vere, homes have been re­stored and life goes on. Res­i­dent Leonard De­sisto, a re­tired city bus op­er­a­tor, said the neigh­bor­hood’s state now re­minds him of when he bought his house in 1982, when it wasn’t as built-up.

KATHY WILLENS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Oct. 25, 2016 photo, empty lots where houses once stood line a nearly aban­doned street in the Oak­wood Beach neigh­bor­hood of Staten Is­land, four years af­ter Su­per­storm Sandy’s deadly storm surge rav­aged the area.

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