By Christine Dayao
Six months after Hurricane Sandy devastated Long Beach, signs of normalcy were resurfacing. Cars whizzed by on busy Park Avenue and people were out walking their dogs and greeting their neighbors.
A closer inspection, however, revealed a damaged community still very much struggling to rebuild after disaster struck.
The sounds of electric saws and hammers filled the air. Oversized storage lockers and pods sat curbside among vehicles and trailers parked in the driveways of some homes being renovated. Signs in storefronts on West Beech Street proclaimed, “We’re Open,” while businesses directly across from them had “For Rent” signs in the windows.
“The one thing that really shows in Long Beach is everyone’s resilience and the community aspect,” said Gina Bannon, a mother of two who has lived in the area for more than a decade.
It was clear to everyone in this beloved beachside community that returning to pre-Sandy conditions would take months and, perhaps, years of effort. Now this “City by the Sea” is preparing to face its first summer after the storm. Summers usually bring a booming tourist business, as visitors rent homes to visit the beach and boardwalk, which was badly damaged in the storm.
Many people move to Long Beach, just a short train ride from Manhattan, to be close to the beach. Bannon said she misses the boardwalk, which is popular among the locals for bicycling and jogging, no matter the season. Like most residents, Bannon is optimistic that the 2.2-mile stretch of boardwalk will return to its former glory.
On April 27, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in honor of the construction of a new boardwalk. To prepare for the way, the remnants of the previous boardwalk were stripped down to the supporting pillars. Sen. Charles Schumer joined local officials and about 1,000 people to celebrate the milestone. The $44 million project is expected to be finished by late October or early November.
Bannon said that without the boardwalk, some merchants will set up food trucks near the beach, and food trucks will be allowed in a municipal parking lot at the end of Shore Road and Riverside Boulevard on a trial basis this summer.
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“People are going to be making money and hopefully get back on their feet soon,” she said.
While Bannon is staying positive about the future of Long Beach’s tourism, she is also realistic about the current situation. “I don’t think we’re going to see seasonal rentals happen. A lot of the homes are still destroyed,” she said.
Among the hardest-hit areas of Long Beach was West End, where the streets are narrow and the houses are close to one other. Sand remains plastered to some driveways, a reminder of how the ocean washed over the beach, cascading down streets and into homes.
West End is filled with bungalows that are popular among seasonal renters, but since a substantial amount of houses were damaged by the storm, there is less real estate to rent. Contractors and their crews have worked hard to restore the structures in time for June.
Bannon got the ball rolling and hired her own contractor to repair her finished basement, damaged when floodwaters overtook her centrally-located neighborhood. Her family also lost a car in the wake of the storm and like many other residents went for weeks without heat and running water.
The family of four chose to hunker down and ride out the hurricane at home. “I don’t regret doing it. I couldn’t leave,” Bannon said, shaking her head.
Now with summer on the horizon, she has had her front yard’s landscaping completely overhauled, bringing some cheeriness to an otherwise dreary situation. While Bannon is making progress in terms of recovery, other residents are not quite there yet. “There are still a lot of people that are displaced and affected by it. It’s going to be a long road ahead,” she said.
It has been a long journey for Ashlee Ruggero, a nurse and three-year resident of Long Beach. The storm flooded her apartment building, making it unfit to live in. For over a month and a half after Sandy struck, Ruggero stayed with family and friends.
It wasn’t until the middle of December that she was able to get to a FEMA-funded hotel. She checked out of the hotel in late March when her building was given the all-clear. However, when Ruggero was set to move back into her studio apartment, she found the building didn’t have electricity. “How can I move back in if there aren’t any lights? It doesn’t make any sense,” she said, “People are hesitating to move back in.”
What some Long Beach residents aren’t hesitating to do is volunteer. Hundreds of people in the community have come together to get the city back to its pre-Sandy life. Bannon said that it started in the days and weeks after the hurricane hit, with a Thanksgiving dinner at the city’s recreation center. The center provided hot meals to those who needed them and a place where everyone could gather for support.
April’s Earth Day weekend played host to the “Comeback Crew,” a volunteer initiative that focused on beautification projects. Participants helped with the landscaping and planting in community gardens, as well as street cleanup. It is said to be the first of many official volunteer projects.
Jennifer Aly took part and said, “Long Beach is amazing. People just want to do good for each other and they want the city to get cleaned up and flourish and get back to the way it was before Sandy.”