It’s Been Two Years Since Hurricane Sandy and We Still Haven’t Recovered

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Hurricane Sandy as seen from Earth's orbit. (National Environmental Visualization Laboratory.)

Hurricane Sandy. (National Environmental Visualization Laboratory.)

Today marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s catastrophic visit to the East Coast. The superstorm killed at least 159 people, left thousands homeless and millions without power, and caused an estimated $65 billion in damages.

It’s important to understand how Sandy continues to impact communities today. As Chris Mooney wrote for Mother Jones last year, “even as scientists continue to study and debate whether global warming is making hurricanes worse, hurricanes have continued to set new intensity records.” And we should expect more monster storms in the future. A study published in the journal Nature earlier this year suggests that the pattern of hurricane activity finds them gradually moving out of the tropics and into more populated latitudes, likely as a result of climate change.

Over the past couple of days, many pieces have been written looking back on the second most destructive hurricane to hit the US after Katrina — and appraising where we stand today in the process of recovery. We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting reports below.

Enduring Damage

The Huffington Post offers a series of animated gifs showing how Sandy changed the geography of various areas. This one depicts Far Rockaway, in Queens, New York, on July 18, 2011, Nov. 1, 2012  and July 1, 2014.

And at Grist, James West looks at five things that are “still broken” two years after the storm.

Stav Ziv reports for Newsweek on the results of a study conducted earlier this year that looked at 12 seriously damaged neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey. “[L]ess than half of residents surveyed felt people in their neighborhoods had gotten all or most of the help they need to recover and restore their lives after the storm,” writes Ziv.

Nearly 7 out of 10 said neighbors helped, whereas only 57 percent said the local government provided assistance, and 55 percent said the same about the federal government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The varying levels of recovery among neighborhoods had to do with more than money, Benz says. The study built on previous research the AP-NORC Center conducted six months after Sandy, which found that “many Americans who were impacted by Superstorm Sandy turned to family, friends, and neighbors for support or assistance more often than formal sources of support like the federal or state government.”

They found that in both low- and high-income neighborhoods, members of communities that had stronger social ties felt more positively about their prospects for recovery and how well they could fare in another disaster.

In New Jersey, the handling of Sandy relief funds has become especially controversial amid reports that Governor Chris Christie used them as a political tool, and as a vehicle for self-promotion. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the state has so far “distributed about a quarter of the money allocated by the federal government, as thousands of homeowners await aid to rebuild.” And Erin O’Neill reports for that a new poll shows “continued dissatisfaction” with the state’s recovery effort “among a large majority of residents affected by the storm, fueled in part by a lack of communication from major rebuilding grant programs.”

A third of the storm survivors surveyed in the Monmouth University Poll said they were satisfied with the state’s recovery efforts. That’s down from 36 percent a year ago. Meanwhile, 66 percent of residents say they are somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the recovery effort now, a level relatively unchanged from a year ago, and many still feel like they have been forgotten.

The Scars Aren’t Just Physical

Emily Dooley reports for ABC News that Sandy had a huge impact on the mental well-being of those who were caught in its maw:

New York health officials estimate about 700,000 residents are still experiencing mental health problems from the storm, which hit on Oct 29, 2012. New Jersey officials did not have a similar estimate but in the 15 months after Sandy, the state supported a disaster mental health program that served 500,000 people.

“There’s just this sort of cumulative stress that has taken a toll on people,” said Renee Burawski, director of Office for Sandy Recovery in the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

It manifests in different ways, such as children avoiding showers because they remind them of rain or an inability to track bills or paperwork. And sometimes it’s a forecast of bad weather.

“It’s left me in a very panic-stricken state of mind,” said Connie Livolsi of Long Beach. “I’ve never been this frightened. I don’t feel safe anymore.”

For more about the people affected by the storm, The Star Ledger put together a moving multimedia feature entitled “Forgotten Faces of Sandy.”

The Red Cross’s Secret Disaster

A new report by ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger, and Laura Sullivan of NPR, finds that the Red Cross did an almost criminally poor job delivering much-needed relief to the victims of both Sandy and Hurricane Isaac, which hit the Gulf Coast earlier that year. They write that the organization “botched key elements of its mission after Sandy and Isaac, leaving behind a trail of unmet needs and acrimony.”

Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by “diverting assets for public relations purposes,” as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was “politically driven.”

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.

“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.

After both storms, the charity’s problems left some victims in dire circumstances or vulnerable to harm, the organization’s internal assessments acknowledge. Handicapped victims “slept in their wheelchairs for days” because the charity had not secured proper cots. In one shelter, sex offenders were “all over including playing in children’s area” because Red Cross staff “didn’t know/follow procedures.”

There’s much more to that story — read the whole thing at ProPublica. 

Looking Ahead

After the damage Sandy wrought became apparent, officials swore that we would be better prepared for the next major storm. Are we? The New York Times looked at that question as it relates to New York City.

Mr. Ovink described the effort to rethink New York as “the love child of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses,” meaning that it merges the granular approach of Ms. Jacobs, an advocate of small, vibrant neighborhoods, and the sweeping vision of Mr. Moses, an urban planner of Pharaonic scale and scope.

It is, if nothing else, enormous, comprising the construction of sea walls and bulkheads, beach replenishment, the creation of parks as buffer zones, the retrofitting of apartment buildings, commercial structures and single-family homes, and the redesign of power stations, subway tunnels, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, utility poles and even ordinary streets.

“In terms of size,” said Daniel Zarrilli, the director of the 8-month-old Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, “you’d have to look back to the rebuilding after the San Francisco earthquake for any real comparison,” referring to the 1906 disaster.

Occupy Sandy Project

Hurricane Sandy and a People’s Relief
Shortly after the storm, we reported on a group of Occupy Wall Street activists in New York City who had joined forces with relief agencies to help storm victims get the supplies they needed. This HuffPo post updates the Occupy volunteer story by highlighting “three individuals whose commitment was evident from the moment they joined the immediate recovery response, and who today show no signs of slowing down.”

Alena Hall reports:

Each of them has helped guide one of the various spinoff groups on the Occupy Sandy Project Spokescouncil, a collection of affiliated efforts aimed at not only providing continued assistance to Sandy victims in New York and New Jersey, but also preparing the states and their people to better handle future disasters. Their pride and compassion for the affected communities has helped keep the rehabilitation momentum going even though Sandy victims have now mostly left the media spotlight.

Read more about these committed volunteers at The Huffington Post.

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