BELMAR, N.J. (AP) – The second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy arrived Wednesday in a region where recovery in New Jersey and New York is happening unevenly, with many houses, boardwalks and businesses rebuilt but many people still unable to return to their homes.
Officials in both states visited houses and businesses badly damaged by the storm to meet with victims still rebuilding and promised to keep working until the recovery is complete.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and federal officials toured a flood-ravaged neighborhood near Raritan Bay in Union Beach, N.J., where many residents are struggling to rebuild. Andrea Kassimatis held her 6-month-old daughter as she described living with four other relatives in a 37-foot trailer next to a partially built home.
"It's been a rough and grueling process," she said. "You feel like your government has forgotten you."
Kassimatis received a $150,000 rebuilding grant from New Jersey but only got a third of what her flood insurance policy was supposed to pay — a common refrain up and down the coast.
"Don't believe what you have from a flood insurance policy," she warned. "Because what you're sold is not what you're going to get."
She voiced her complaints to Castro, to New Jersey's two U.S. senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, and to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., all of whom said more "accountability and transparency" is needed in Sandy aid distribution.
The Oct. 29, 2012, storm, which was spawned when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, devastated the oceanfront coastline and caused catastrophic flooding in New York and cities in New Jersey, including Hoboken and Jersey City. It was blamed for at least 182 deaths and $65 billion in damage in the U.S. It's New Jersey's worst natural disaster.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio joined City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other elected officials to work with Habitat for Humanity at a storm-damaged home in Brooklyn. The group has helped rebuild 100 homes in New York. He also toured a Staten Island neighborhood named Ocean Breeze and recounted the destruction.
"This borough, this island, in many ways bore the brunt of the storm: 44 lives lost due to Sandy, 23 from Staten Island," he said. "A lot of pain, and a lot of memory. We are now safer than we were two years ago, that is a matter of fact. But we have a lot more to do. I can say with assurance, when we gather a year from now, we will be safer than we were in 2014."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state has supported the repair and rebuilding of nearly 10,000 homes, provided $20.8 million in grants to small businesses and facilitated the proposal of approximately 600 projects through the N.Y. Rising Community Reconstruction Program.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, while defending his administration's handling of the rebuilding, tangled with a heckler who was critical of its efforts. The often combative governor told heckler Jim Keady, who interrupted his speech several times to criticize the pace of storm aid assistance, "Sit down and shut up."
Christie said his administration will keep working until everyone who needs help gets it.
"It seems like a lot longer than two years," Christie said after the incident was over. "This has been a long, long two years and a long struggle. Time doesn't move as quickly as we might like it to."
Sanitation worker Christopher Camuso, whose Staten Island home was severely damaged in the storm, finally moved back into it on Wednesday.
"It feels amazing. The weather is great and just blowing the air through the windows," Camuso said. "It's awesome. It feels like home."
At a memorial ceremony in New York's battered Rockaways section, Pandit Seerattan came away with one overriding thought.
"The main thing we learned from Sandy is: We have to think like the unthinkable," said Seerattan. "Because the unthinkable happens."