Five years on, New Yorkers still live with the scars of Hurricane Sandy

A FEW more days and the last of Hurricane Sandy's damage will finally be cleared from Mohamad Rahman's southern Brooklyn home — five years after the storm-ravaged New York.

Two young women install a door frame on the two-story house's ground floor under the watch of Ben Fransua, who manages construction for an organization renovating homes damaged by the hurricane.

When he visited the house, situated less than a mile from the beach, for the first time last spring, Fransua discovered the walls full of mold and holes — souvenirs from Sandy, which caused nine feet (three meters) of floodwater on Oct 29, 2012.

His non-profit — a branch of SBP, the disaster recovery organization founded to help rebuild Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — took over the construction site, supported by AmeriCorps, a national body that engages hundreds of thousands of Americans in community service each year.

But while this renovation is finished, three more are on deck, Fransua explains. There are 50 names on the waiting list and every week, two or three more people contact the organization, said the SBP's Alana Tornello.

When Sandy struck, the Princeton graduate was in Japan working in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. A Staten Island native, she decided to return to New York to help.

Since 2012 the SBP has renovated 299 houses — including 30 under the "Build it Back" municipal program, which has helped a total of 8,200 homeowners who did not have flood insurance.

But bureaucracy, rising construction costs and unscrupulous storm-chasing contractors are several reasons Tornello cites to explain why dozens of buildings remain damaged five years on from Sandy, which killed more than 40 people in New York and cost the state US$42 million, (RM178 million).

"To be fair," she said, "this was the first time that the city was dealing with an event of this size".

But, she added, "from the homeowners perspective, it's been an incredibly difficult and devastating five years".

Preparing for the next Sandy

Shortening deadlines is the goal of the SBP, which helps owners every step of the way, from initial building surveys to the completion of projects. The organization has tapped the expertise of companies like Toyota, known for optimizing production speed.

SBP also combines public and private funding sources, utilizing donations from individuals, societies and religious organizations — but Tornello is worried funding could dry up, with help and donations shifting to recently affected areas.

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — which whipped Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in recent months — authorities in New York stressed the importance of preparing for future storms, which scientists fear are likely due to climate change.

So now, SBP is looking ahead.

With the support of US$9.3 million of funding from the state of New York, a few days ago the organization launched its "Uplift" program, which will help raise 28 homes located in high-risk areas of Staten Island and two Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Joseph Lynch's small house, whose living room was flooded with four feet of water five years ago to the day, will be the first to benefit.

The 69-year-old said he was "so grateful" to enter the program, saying it "was like a burden that was lifted from me".

After Sandy struck, Lynch was forced to seek shelter in a center for hurricane victims near his Gerritsen Beach home, located on Brooklyn's southern coast some 25km from central Manhattan.

When the next storm comes — because he has no doubt it will — he said he'll "have a place to live and I can bring in other people, which a lot of people in this neighborhood will do". — AFP