Howard Beach is a neighborhood in Queens, much like countless other neighborhoods in New York City. But something that makes Howard Beach different than most New York City neighborhoods is that it is an oceanfront community. The casual observer could easily forget they are in New York City and mistake their surroundings for a small New England town. Modest homes with private docks and mid-sized boats line the shore. Beautiful views, the smell of the ocean and the sound of seagulls overwhelm your senses as you walk along the beach. But there is more than meets the eye behind this beautiful setting. Drywall covered in black mold, raw sewage floating in the streets, and unstable foundations defined this neighborhood less than six years ago, and if you look close enough and talk to enough people, you can still see the scars, both mental and physical, that remain and have changed this neighborhood forever.
On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Howard Beach. The hurricane, which brought with it over 100 mph winds, over $70 billion dollars worth of damage, and 233 fatalities, was a category two storm when it hit northeastern New York. The devastating storm caused millions of dollars of damage to this oceanfront community by flooding basements, destroying the sewer system, destroying cars, boats, docks, and foundations in residential and commercial properties. Business owners received a double dose of damage, as businesses damaged in the storm, including banks and pharmacies, were looted in the aftermath of the storm. In addition to the property damage, many residents of Howard Beach, as well as rescue workers, suffered from lasting health consequences of the storm. Symptoms included constant headaches, dizzy spells, a hacking cough, painful urination and eye irritation. The flood waters mixed with raw sewage from the backed up sewers, which entered basements and houses. Mold and infectious bacteria remained when the flood waters receded. The New York City Health Department advised people to clean the affected surfaces with soap and bleach, and advised people not to stay in their houses until the mold was addressed and heat was restored. They did not, however, address the lack of financial assistance to accomplish these recommendations.
Slow and weak relief efforts were insufficient to address the widespread damage, as almost six years later, residents are still struggling to recover from the storm. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funds, the city’s Build it Back program designed to help people rebuild, and the Red Cross efforts were slow and inadequate, preventing people from addressing the devastation in a timely manner. Residents of Howard Beach were without power for two weeks before Con Edison began to start restoring power. Multiple days passed before FEMA representatives or even the Red Cross showed up in the devastated community to offer assistance. When relief efforts finally began, they were insufficient to address the damage caused by the storm. The National Guard and the Red Cross relief efforts consisted of dropping off survival packages and leaving. Rebuilding assistance was dreadfully insufficient. Excessive and repetitive paperwork, lengthy approval processes for funds, and ever-changing municipal regulations has limited and delayed access to recovery funds. A full two years after the hurricane, only 1,500 of the 4,000 residents who had applied for assistance through Build it Back had even reached the design phase of their rebuilding plan, and less than 900 checks had been sent out to reimburse expenses paid out of pocket by homeowners. as people were reimbursed only a fraction of their total expenses. One resident reported $100,000 of damage to his home, but received only $28,000 from FEMA. Another reported $85,000 worth of damage, and only $15,000 from FEMA. Betty Braton, chairperson of Community Board 10 and a lifelong resident of Howard Beach explains how the people of Howard Beach were not only devastated by the physical damage caused by the storm, but they were devastated by the lack of financial support from the government. People had to spend their life savings, retirement funds, and borrow in order to rebuild. People who had lived in Howard Beach all their lives had to sell their family homes, as they could not afford to rebuild. To date, people are still struggling to rebuild, as relief funds were just not sufficient. FEMA had suffered 43% cuts to grants in the two years previous to Hurricane Sandy, which grossly affected their ability to assist as needed. Human suffering-both physical and financial- was the result in Howard Beach, Queens.
Feuer, Alan. “Building for the Next Big Storm.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Oct. 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/nyregion/after-hurricane-sandy-new-york-rebuilds-for-the-future.html.
“HOWARD BEACH AND HURRICANE SANDY: AN INSIDER’S PERSPECTIVE – SFCToday.” SFCToday, www.sfctoday.com/howard-beach-and-hurricane-sandy-an-insiders-perspective/.
dontonydeblasi. “Howard Beach, NY (Hurricane Sandy Storm Surge) Fox 5 NY.” YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYgg9nI0-Hg.
Scottmeyerfilms. “Hurricane Sandy – The Day After – Howard Beach, NY – Queens.” YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0h17jgQzYo.
Lent, Jesse. “’We’ve Been Forgotten,’ Howard Beach Residents Say After Sandy.” DNAinfo New York, DNAinfo New York, 7 Nov. 2012, www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121107/howard-beach/weve-been-forgotten-howard-beach-residents-say-after-sandy/.
Murphy, Jarrett. “3 Years After Hurricane Sandy, Is New York Prepared for the Next Great Storm?” The Nation, 13 Oct. 2015, www.thenation.com/article/3-years-after-hurricane-sandy-is-new-york-prepared-for-the-next-great-storm/.
“Old Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach and Broad Channel.” Zoning Districts & Tools : C6 – DCP, Liquor Authority, www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/resilient-neighborhoods/old-howard-beach-hamilton-beach-broad-channel.page.
Posner, Alec. “Firefighter and His Wife Used Second Home in Howard Beach to Steal Sandy Relief Funds, DA Says.” QNS.com, QNS.com, qns.com/story/2016/07/26/firefighter-wife-used-second-home-howard-beach-steal-sandy-relief-funds-da-says/.
“Queens Couple Defrauded FEMA, Claimed to Be Sandy Victims, DA Says.” WPIX 11 New York, 25 July 2016, pix11.com/2016/07/25/queens-couple-defrauded-fema-claimed-to-be-sandy-victims-da-says/.
Nydailynews. “Queens Residents Still Struggle to Rebuild Homes Damaged by Hurricane Sandy Two Years Ago – NY Daily News.” Nydailynews.com, New York Daily News, 26 Oct. 2014, www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/queens-residents-struggle-hurricane-sandy-damage-years-article-1.1987126.
Rafter, Domenick, et al. “Howard Beach Stunned by Hurricane Sandy Storm Surge.” Queens Chronicle, www.qchron.com/editions/south/howard-beach-stunned-by-hurricane-sandy-storm-surge/article_148da019-cab1-5df7-8de0-f9236f678317.html.
Rafter, Domenick, and Queens Chronicle. “Hurricane Sandy Linked to Some Illnesses in Howard Beach.” Queens Chronicle, www.qchron.com/editions/south/hurricane-sandy-linked-to-some-illnesses-in-howard-beach/article_43b80c71-8c35-5518-af11-9ba5a6f5c4ac.html.
Ray, Rosemary. “Hurricane Sandy Reportedly Prompts Looting in Howard Beach.” Queens Chronicle, www.qchron.com/editions/south/hurricane-sandy-reportedly-prompts-looting-in-howard-beach/article_1a9051f8-22c8-11e2-a35d-0019bb2963f4.html.
Staff, QNS. “Looking Back at Unforgettable Images of Queens after Hurricane Sandy Struck Five Years Ago Today.” QNS.com, QNS.com, qns.com/story/2017/10/29/looking-back-unforgettable-images-queens-hurricane-sandy-struck-five-years-ago-today/.