Storm-damaged community gone for good

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NEW YORK

The forces of nature had been threatening Staten Island's Oakwood Beach neighborhood for years, flooding the streets every time it rained, sending crabs skittering into bungalows and swamping basements so regularly that it was just accepted as part of life.

But after Superstorm Sandy swept in with 20-foot waves that crashed over roofs and killed three people, those who have lived here for generations decided it was time to go. Soon, the state will buy some 400 homes, bulldoze them and never again allow anything to be built here.

Oakwood Beach will finally surrender to the sea.

"The heartache of losing my home, the heartache of losing my memories, the blood and sweat and tears that I put into this home, is going to be healed by seeing trees and nature come back to that spot right there," said Joe Monte, a construction worker who had built his dream house overlooking the ocean. "And that's going to make me feel better."

The neighborhood is the first -- and so far only -- New York City community to be totally bought out under a state program that promises to turn wrecked neighborhoods into perpetual green space.

"The chances of us being able to sell this house at a later date and move on really were slim," said Danielle Mancuso, who is being bought out of the attached duplex she lives in with her husband and three young children. "Who could afford to pay the flood insurance premium? Because we're all attached, we could not elevate. We would really just be sitting ducks."

The state of New York plans to spend up to $400 million buying out and knocking down homes in Sandy-affected communities in the city and on Long Island, offering residents the pre-storm value of their houses. In New Jersey, the state is planning to spend about $300 million to buy about 1,000 damaged homes.

Most homeowners in Oakwood Beach have already applied and are proceeding toward the state's offer to purchase. The first house was demolished last week, and the state has already bought about a dozen homes. New Jersey officials purchased their first two homes last week.

Getting a buyout is the equivalent of winning the lottery for homeowners who lost everything during the storm, although not all residents want to be bought out. On New York City's Rockaway peninsula, for example, homeowners are determined to stay put and rebuild.

State officials say they chose to buy out Oakwood Beach after analyzing historical flooding data and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's scientific flood maps. The other crucial factor was quick mobilization: residents began marshaling resources for a buyout the day after Sandy hit.



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