NEW YORK (AP) — Residents of coastal neighborhoods battered by Superstorm Sandy one year ago Tuesday are marking the day in ways both public and private, remembering the fierce floodwaters that destroyed their livelihoods but also the communities that came together in a time of need.
Elected officials toured hard-hit areas in New York and New Jersey and thanked emergency workers, while survivors planned to light candles and flashlights to pay their respects to what was lost when the storm roared ashore last year.
Photos: Hurricane Sandy then and now
Sandy made landfall at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore. In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city's subway and commuter rail tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.
The storm was blamed for at least 181 deaths in the U.S. — including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey — and property damages estimated at $65 billion.
Residents of Breezy Point, at the sand-swept tip of New York City's Rockaway peninsula, marked the anniversary with a day of community service.
Volunteers planted sea grass at the top of a quarter-mile-long dune built to protect the remote beach community, where more than 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the storm.
The teams working along the sand ridge included Wayne and Jo Jo Barca, whose house filled with water up to the second floor.
They've spent the past year rebuilding. Wayne worked so hard that he wound up in the emergency room with heat exhaustion over the summer.
"It's been a lot of work," he said. "And thank God for all the volunteers."
A crew of 12 firefighters helped him rip out his soggy floors. Workers with a city program, Rapid Repairs, helped get the heat back on.
The cooperative that manages Breezy Point paid for the dune itself, used its own sand and harvested its own sea grass for the dune project.
"One year ago, we were in total chaos and complete devastation in this community," said Arthur Lighthall, the cooperative's general manager.
"We are not done yet," he said.
It doesn't take much for Robert Schipf of Babylon, N.Y., to become emotional when he thinks about the recovery from Sandy, which inundated his two-story Long Island home with about 2 feet of water.
"For me, the easiest word to describe it is 'helpless,'" Schipf said as he choked back a tear in the foyer of the recently renovated house, where new floor tiles have been laid and walls have been replaced.
The repairs cost him about $110,000.
Schipf and his family spent nearly 11 months staying with relatives as their home was fixed.
"We couldn't get straight answers from anyone," he said. "In this day and age, we have all this focus on preparedness. It would have been nice to have had that. The basic facts about what to do were not forthcoming."
The frustration mounted as he dealt with local, state and federal agencies — as well as insurance underwriters — who could not provide adequate answers.
"None of the insurance companies were ready for this magnitude of storm," he said. "The delays between having your house flooded and getting someone here to do the adjustment was just too long."
Debbie Fortier, of Brick, N.J., drove to Seaside Park on Tuesday hoping to speak with Gov. Chris Christie, who was visiting several Sandy-ravaged towns. Walking out arm-in-arm with him after he finished speaking at the firehouse, she told Christie how her family's house had to be torn down and how her family has yet to receive any aid.
"We're physically, emotionally and spiritually just drained," she said after Christie left. "Does anybody hear us?"
She said she is on a waiting list "for everything" and is particularly bitter that her family started to repair their storm-damaged house, only to have inspectors later tell them it was too badly damaged to fix. They then had to knock it down and move into a friend's basement.
"How long am I supposed to wait?" she asked. "It's been a year. You can't just not move forward."
Yet Fortier said she takes Christie at his word that help is on the way — whenever that might be.