Life Still Far From Normal Six Months After Superstorm Sandy

The Rockaways in Queens were one of the areas hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy last year. Much of the beach disappeared and the boardwalk was destroyed. A lot of houses and businesses were damaged and some were without power until February. Now life is beginning to return to normal, but as summer approaches a lot of people are worried about how much has been lost.

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It's been six months since Hurricane Sandy tore its path of destruction through the Northeast. One of the hardest-hit areas was the Rockaways, a string of beachfront communities in the New York borough of Queens. The storm left lots of houses destroyed. Many others were without power for most of the winter. Well, now, with summer approaching, life in the Rockaways is still far from normal, as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Louis Somma has been coming to this little wooden bungalow a block from Rockaway Beach ever since it was bought by his father in 1948. When Hurricane Sandy swept through the neighborhood last October, it blew the roof off his kitchen, and floodwaters tore the front porch off.

LOUIS SOMMA: That beam right there, I'm going to lift that up, put this under it, and that's it.

ZARROLI: So it looks like your front porch is kind of almost sliding away from the house.

SOMMA: It's - but after I get through, it's not going to slide. That's right.

ZARROLI: On this spring afternoon, Somma has heard that volunteers from a church group are coming into the neighborhood, and he's standing in his debris-cluttered yard hoping they'll help him repair his house. At 83, Somma is determined to stay in Rockaway Beach, but a lot of his neighbors have moved away.

SOMMA: It made it nice and quiet.

(LAUGHTER)

SOMMA: Yeah. It did. There are less people around. Right now, it's vacant. It's like a ghost town.

ZARROLI: Far more than most other parts of the city, the Rockaways bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy's fury. Fire destroyed one entire neighborhood. Some houses were without power until February. Today, there is still no subway service, and most of the boardwalk has been destroyed. Lilly Gerson, an artist who lives here, says it's easy to lose sight of how bad things still are.

LILLY GERSON: And sometimes when I don't leave Rockaway for like a week or something and then I leave, I realize, like, how different it is in Brooklyn or in the city. It's getting better, but it's still dirty. There's still sand everywhere. There's still no boardwalk up there, and like, the beach is really depleted.

ZARROLI: In fact, the beach, which has always defined the Rockaways, has been almost totally washed away. What's left is sometimes completely covered by the tide.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

ZARROLI: On a recent afternoon, bulldozers were scooping sand off the street where it was left by the storm. The city has promised to rebuild the beach, but John Cori, who founded the group Friends of Rockaway Beach, says Sandy left the Rockaways perilously exposed to the elements. He says New York long ago allowed the Rockaways to be urbanized, and it can't abandon the area now.

JOHN CORI: We have zero, zero protection. I mean, there's nothing. There used to be a beach that protected, there used to be a boardwalk that protected this neighborhood. There's nothing now. The beach is 100 percent gone. The boardwalk is 100 percent gone. So there's no protection. It's dangerous.

ZARROLI: Cori has lived in Rockaway Beach his entire life, and he says, in some ways, Sandy has had a positive impact.

CORI: We absolutely, totally have gotten to know - and I hear this everywhere - neighbors know neighbors a lot better. People took care of each other. And a lot more people are much more active, civically active.

ZARROLI: But, he says, there are still big concerns. Many businesses have closed, and it's not clear when or if they'll reopen. Mold is a common problem. Bulent Gurel runs a gas station that was completely flooded out by the storm. Everything was destroyed, including 5,000 gallons of gasoline in an underground tank. Today, the station has reopened, and Gurel says business is pretty good because there are so many construction workers around. But he worries about what will happen down the road.

BULENT GUREL: We will see how the business will be because there'll be no construction people working, and we'll be living by ourselves.

ZARROLI: Only then, he says, will people in the Rockaways get to see how much damage Hurricane Sandy has really done and what kind of long-term impact it will have. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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