The devastation from Superstorm Sandy, shown here on Nov. 14 near Fairfield, Conn., has caused many skeptics to consider the likelihood of climate change.(Photo: Jessica Hill, AP)
(NBC NEWS) -- When Superstorm Sandy barreled into New York and New Jersey a year ago,
killing more than 160 people and destroying decades old landmarks as
well as whole neighborhoods, few could have imaged that a year later the
impact of that day would continue to be so real.
But thousands of residents displaced by Sandy are still fighting
insurance companies, waiting for government aid or trying to recover
from a lifestyle shattered. Others are celebrating their survival.
just hours old when the storm darkened New York - forced to move to
other medical centers - filled a Manhattan hospital room on Tuesday.
Parents and staff lighted candles on cupcakes and sang: "Happy birthday,
Some survivors still shaken by the memories of that day came together
in New York to share memories and recall the help they got from
With just under hurricane-force winds, Sandy slammed
ashore on Oct. 29, 2012, a massive storm surge - nearly 14 feet high -
plowed through the densely populated islands of Long Island as well as
the Jersey Shore, where historic boardwalks were torn apart and a roller
coaster was toppled and buried in the surf.
At least 162 people
in the U.S. were killed indirectly and directly by the storm, according
to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Property damage was
estimated at $64 billion.
"Today, we remember our fellow Americans
who lost their lives to that storm," President Barack Obama said in a
statement. "And we comfort the families who grieve them still. And
while there are still homes to rebuild and businesses to reopen, the
last year has also served as a reminder of the strength and resilience
of the American people."
Indeed, out of the devastation also came amazing stories of survival and people coming together to help one another.
Ellen Bednarz of Sayreville, N.Y., whose family fled before Sandy hit
but returned to find a destroyed home, remembered the kindness of
debris haulers who carted away her family's ruined possessions.
"I never saw more caring people," she told the AP at an event to thank firefighters who used boats to rescue scores of people.
Bednarz said she is renting an apartment as she is waiting for government buyout of her home to close.
Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie toured hard-hit communities,
greeting residents, first responders and volunteers. He honored them for
their strength and residents and the strides they've made to recover
from the historic storm.
On NBC's TODAY show, Christie said his
most vivid memory of the storm was in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where
he encountered a crying 9-year-old girl Ginger Doherty.
seeing crying adults I kind of braced myself for, but seeing a crying,
scared 9-year-old child, like my 9-year-old daughter at the time was
incredibly emotional," he said. "And to this very day is still evocative
to me- and represents all of the children who were misplaced after
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed flags to fly at half staff in
honor of the 51 people who died in that state. A moment of silence was
set to be observed at 8 p.m. - about the time when the storm surge that
flooded large swaths of the city made landfall.
Even a year later,
however, the majority of the money earmarked for Sandy relief remains
unspent, according to the organization Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The group's vice president, Stephen Ellis, issued a statement
saying only 11 percent of the $50.3 billion appropriated for disaster
relief has been spent, though admitting it was hard to track. The
"funding is haphazardly tagged" and scattered across agencies "instead
of one-stop shopping at HUD, the coordinating agency for oversight."
are concerned that delayed spending leads to individuals and
communities to rebuild cheaply and very similar to what was there
before," he said. "Also, it becomes more likely the funds go to work
that is not really Sandy-related and clearly not an emergency."
and Innocenza Picheo were left with two New Jersey properties to
rebuild after Sandy: their primary residence in Moonachie and a second
home in Manahawkin on Long Beach Island.
"Even now, I still think
about it at night before I go to sleep," Innocenza Picheo told the AP.
"When I go downstairs to wash clothes, I still look around and think
about the water rushing in."
Both properties have since been
rebuilt with the help of volunteers from a church group. But Giuseppe
Picheo knows others haven't been as fortunate.
"I'm back to normal, but I feel very sorry for those who aren't, especially now when you see all the images again," he said.
the recovery from Sandy has been uneven, which can be seen in places
like the working-class Arverne section of the Rockaways, where many
people are still living in damaged home they can't afford to fully
"When you drive around, it looks as if everything is okay. But
everything is far from OK," pastor David Cockfield of the Battalion
Pentecostal Assembly Church, told the AP. "There is so much that is not
Residents told the AP that while the city is
constructing flood defenses on the wealthier side of the railroad tracks
that split the peninsula, the mostly black neighborhood at the edge of
Jamaica Bay has no sea wall or storm sewers, and it floods frequently
with stinking water.
Moses Williams said the finished basement in his home is still wrecked because he doesn't have $50,000 to repair itl.
"You can smell the mold," he told the AP.
Peter Alexander of NBC and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
By Jeff Black, Staff Writer, NBC News