By Laurie Cherenfant & Nicholas Lopez
Public officials and Superstorm Sandy victims marked the storm’s first anniversary on Tuesday by recalling its destruction and setting eyes towards prevention, as they also reviewed storm preparation plans.
Sandy killed 68 people in New York and devastated local areas around the five boroughs such as Staten Island, City Island, Coney Island, Manhattan Island, and Breezy Point.
Is the city better prepared for a major storm than last year?
“The answer is unconditionally, yes,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he visited the levee building project on Coney Island.
The Bloomberg administration released a resiliency project plan in June, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” which builds on long-term planning and sustainability to strengthen areas vulnerable to severe storms and other climate events.
Another island devastated by the storm in this many-island city was the often-regarded “forgotten borough” where local officials cut a ribbon for a new memorial statue in Tottenville, a neighborhood badly hit. It was organized by a group of student volunteers to help clean up after the storm.
“Sadly, it took a storm one year ago today to prove all those people wrong,” said State Assemblyman Joseph Borelli of skeptics who said Staten Island would not unite so quickly “This town, this island as a whole, came together as one and it was truly an unbelievable sight to see.”
On another New York island — City Island in the Bronx — the unity was contagious, as Tony’s Pier Restaurant reopened after suffering severe damages.
The seafood restaurant broke out in flames from a loose telephone line during the storm. One hundred forty firefighters responded to the three-alarm fire, battling fierce winds and rain.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., handed a plaque to co-owner Anthony Palumbo, certifying “Tony’s Pier Day.”
Palumbo wept. “I want to carry on the family tradition hopefully for another 60 years,” he said.
Coney Island was another badly affected area, with more than 48,000 residents’ homes in disarray, according to recent FEMA data. Average C.I. households earn $31,000 a year, according to U.S. Census. Nearly one in four residents are too impoverished, too poor to restore their lives to what it once was
Bloomberg said his priority was to get residents back home. Construction workers planned to place levees and tidal barriers between where the creek and ocean meet, as this was the area that caused major flooding.
Manhattan Island was another scene of heavy flooding that impacted the Bowling Green area where the storm surge hit 14 feet and flooded the subways, including the South Ferry subway station, rebuilt after 9/11
Governor Andrew Cuomo said that his administration spent a lot of time redesigning and improving the first responder network, which was a different situation for Sandy.
“The first responder network we had in this state was frankly not equipped for it,” said Cuomo standing near the vest pocket part where colonial New Yorkers tossed bowls. “It wasn’t designed for it. We’re going to have training protocols so we’re going to make sure next time, we’ll be much better prepared from a first responders’ point-of-view.”
The city made rapid progress, even before Tuesday, as 97 percent of the region’s beaches were opened by Memorial Day in places like Breezy Point, Queens.
Artie Lighthall, Breezy Point Cooperative general manager, talked about new 10-foot high dunes along the ocean side, and how grass planted there would help catch and stabilize wind-driven sand.
“Our co-op faced the biggest challenge that it’s faced before,” said Joe Lynch, BPC chairman. “The co-op’s spirit was tested, and very visible.
“Twenty-one hundred homes saw damage from Sandy,” said Lightman.
Talk of flood insurance rates echoed throughout Staten Island.
Congressman Michael Grimm said that an affordability study was never done by FEMA. Once FEMA hands a proposal to Congress, Congress will then have six months to approve of disapprove of the proposal.
“It would stop the skyrocketing premiums,” said Grimm.
Flags at all state buildings flew at half staff and Gov. Cuomo called a moment of silence at 8 p.m. Secretary of State Shaun Donovan said he hopes to build for a better future.
“We won’t have to remember the terrible damage that was done by Sandy,” said Donovan. “We will be better prepared the next time a storm comes.”
The anniversary seemed to show that no city is an island unto itself.
Photo of Breezy Point cooperative general manager Arthur LightHall brandishing shovel