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One year later Superstorm Sandy’s impact still felt in the Bronx

Bronx Times

A year later, Superstorm Sandy’s scars still remain fresh in pockets of the Bronx.

For some, it’s too early to call it “back to normal.” Indeed, for many residents such as Nick Virello of Locust Point, or Judy Bonnano in Harding Park, it feels like just yesterday that a 13-foot surge battered the borough’s shorelines.

Areas formerly known as Zone A territories, are now designated Zone 1 on new hurricane flood maps.

An infamous deluge struck hundreds of waterfront homes, shaking foundations, knocking out power and ripping out piers many believed were invulnerable.

At the height of the storm, City Island was aglow in a fiery mess as firefighters battled a six-alarm blaze that engulfed Tony’s Pier, a popular eatery.

Since then, government assistance has trickled in, though incomparable to Queens, Manhattan or Brooklyn, which all bore the brunt of Sandy’s path given the exposure to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Bronx, insulated by the city, was largely spared, with landlocked communities mainly experiencing 65 MPH winds.

But it doesn’t erase the fact that the storm left thousands of homeowners in the dark for days, weeks of gas lines and several months of removing downed trees, repairing basements and wrangling with insurance companies.

The pain of rebuilding continues, with many slowly intending to come back piecemeal, and on their own. With several setbacks hindering the rebuilding process, a sense of abandonment has crept in for many folks in the outlying area.

Harding Park

“We are forgotten about. Nobody’s done anything for us,” said Bonnano, whose low-lying Harding Park community bore the brunt of storm damage.

A remote village abutting Eastchester Bay, the neighborhood was nearly drowned by the infamous 13-foot surge.

Joanne Pache’s bungalow could not withstand the pressure. She survived even as the storm took out all her belongings she amassed over the past 44 years.

Even more tragic was the fallout – she passed away. Her home was later bulldozed on orders by the city Department of Buildings deeming the house as unlivable, replaced by wooden boards.

Across the street, Charlie Vaiciunas’ one-story home was hard hit.

He was already distraught, having lost his mother and brother the year before Sandy’s rampage. But as Federal Emergency Management Agency assessed the damage, Vaiciunas was already lost. He hung himself shortly after the recuperation money was taken back, according to neighbors.

“FEMA should be held accountable,” said longtime neighbor Jimmy Ziegler. “They take care of everyone else,” said Ziegler. “But they don’t take care of anyone here.”

The area once known as “Little Puerto Rico” has not been the same since, as Judy Bonnano sees it. She wishes the city could elevate the stone that did little to stop the rising floods.

“Who wants to be worried about water after putting thousands of thousands of dollars into it?” she asked.

Locust Point

Locust Point stands among the hard hit waterfront nabes, with locals pressing insurance firms to help cover costs for homes and damaged docks. In some cases, homeowners have simply walked away.

On Tierney Place, homeowner Tony Macchia spent months fixing his two-story home that boasts a scenic view of the shore. He’s since repaired his roof, knocked around by Sandy’s heavy winds and rains.

“I haven’t stopped working since the day of the storm,” said Macchia, who’s lived in the same house since he was born 60 years back. Since Sandy, he’s struggled to get his insurer Narragansett Bay Insurance Company to foot the damage.

These days Tony’s learned to “read the fine print” to any insurance policy, and is looking for another insurer.

A few doors down, contractor Nick Virello has restored his private dock, spending roughly $90,000 of his own money and no federal assistance. He’s built smarter now, though he’s vowed never to re-build again. “I’ll be done.”

It’s already happened to several siblings who’ve posted “For Sale” signs at their seaside property.

But there were shimmers of a silver lining, as Chrys Napolitano of the Locust Point Civic Association pointed out. She recenly toured the city-owned LPCA house, newly-built after getting pummeled by Sandy.

Country Club

The Interclub, comprised of six seasoned local recreation clubs – the Manhem, Askov Hall, D.A. Beach, White Cross Fishing, American Turners, and Westchester Country clubs – is still primed for a comeback, though much of the delays stem from lagging insurance payments, with the Manhem Club still awaiting brokers to process claims.

“I have not received a dime of insurance money...,” said Watson. “The clubs who put in claims are going through the same thing.”

Though he’s haggling with his insurance company, he was able to corral volunteers to restore the club’s damaged pier.

Elsewhere, the track and field at Villa Maria Academy, torn by Sandy’s punishing surge, was restored recently thanks to parent contributions. It had faced damage a year before when Hurricane Irene blasted through.

Michael Bernard, VMA’s physical education teacher, said the contractor admitted not much can be done with a storm the insurance companies are billing as an “act of God.”

Looking Ahead

With Superstorm Sandy now recorded as the second costliest storm in history, city officials have taken preventive steps to keep a catastrophe like this from happening again.

Locally, Community Board 10, covering the hard-hit areas of the Bronx, has devised a survey that determines which city-owned seawalls are in need of an upgrade.

District Manager Ken Kearns has also drafted an initial report that provides storm-prevention recommendations to the city, which include heightening the seawalls to keep waters at bay.

Their outline would come months after the city’s own 500-page storm resiliency plan, that offered some suggestions for the Bronx such as ensuring the Hunts Point Food Center is safeguarded.

This comes as scientists predict storms will intensify in the next few years.

But Napolitano with LPCA has since pored over the city’s storm resiliency outline, recommending seawalls for Locust Point, though she was surprised to see the Bronx barely mentioned.

“At the very end of it, the report mentions what initiatives are being done borough by borough,” she said. “But it’s only broken down to four boroughs. The Bronx is not even mentioned.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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