SEASIDE PARK, N.J.–News helicopters aren’t hovering over Superstorm Sandy–wrecked coastlines anymore, but many businesses and homes are still pumping out seawater and trying to recover power a month after the record-breaking storm. Already the damage in New York alone is more extensive than the damage from Hurricane Katrina: Sandy destroyed 305,000 homes there, a preliminary number, while Katrina destroyed 214,700 in Louisiana.
The hardest-hit areas—the Jersey Shore; Staten Island; Red Hook, Brooklyn; and Far Rockaway, Queens, still find normalcy elusive. Buildings around Wall Street and Battery Park remain dark. Seawater ruined many electrical systems in apartment buildings there, leaving thousands of residents as indefinite evacuees. The city has declared nine buildings in lower Manhattan structurally unsafe because of the storm. JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, has been unable to return to its Wall Street headquarters and is operating in a satellite location. And the National Park Service has no estimated date for reopening the Statue of Liberty.
In New Jersey, the government had sealed off the state’s barrier islands after Sandy, and only several weeks later began allowing residents on certain parts of the islands from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. At 3 p.m., police go from house to house and tell residents to leave. Natalie Zozzaro, who lived with her mother in Seaside Park on the barrier islands, recently returned to her flooded home for the first time following the storm. For now Zozzaro is living with her brother a couple of hours south, so she drives to the island day after day and drags out a lifetime of ruined possessions to the curb.
At 3 p.m., she changes out of her contaminated clothes, leaves, and drives north to a hospital where her mother is in intensive care following heart surgery. Zozzaro doesn’t expect she’ll be able to move back for at least six months. The barrier islands still don’t have power, and the local gas company estimates that because of the extensive infrastructure damage, they won’t have gas service back until the end of December.
Back on the Jersey shore, a Samaritan’s Purse team in Ocean County is still ripping out the interiors of homes. Local program manager Brent Graybeal said the team has completed work on 227 homes so far, but still has outstanding requests for help from another 194 homes, and more requests coming in every day.
On Long Island, more than 1,000 homes have been condemned, according to Pastor William Shishko of Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Long Island. Even though his church is a few miles inland, he lists members of his church who lost homes or lost all their possessions. He sends pictures of streets filled with sand.
“In other areas of our nation, things are proceeding to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s,” Shishko wrote in an email to his denomination in late November. “Marketers are trying to get us to think like that (especially in heavily commercialized New York), but, with disaster all around us here, it is very difficult to fall into that line.”
Three public hospitals in New York City remain crippled. Coney Island and Coler-Goldwater Hospitals won’t be back up and running at normal capacity until January. Bellevue Hospital won’t be back to normal capacity until February. The city had to evacuate patients from all three hospitals during the storm when floodwaters zapped the hospitals’ critical backup generators.
And private hospitals, weeks after the storm, were still overwhelmed with extra patients from evacuated facilities like New York University Langone Medical Center. In New Jersey, even where hospitals were able to keep the lights on, they were overwhelmed because they couldn’t discharge patients who had no homes to return to.
“It is heart wrenching to see the widespread damage from Sandy firsthand—and to contemplate the loss for each family and business in the path of the storm. I have pictures of places that I knew well, but have become eerily unfamiliar,” wrote Brian Lynch, a former member of Shishko’s Long Island church who came back to participate in the relief effort. “God is still in control, and the gospel of Jesus Christ seems more precious and real than ever to many of God’s people.”