How Superstorm Sandy changed rebuilding waterfront homes on Fire Island

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Tuesday, October 25, 2022
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Superstorm Sandy has changed the way waterfront homes are built on Fire Island and residents hope history never repeats itself. Stacey Sager has the story.

FIRE ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- It was 10 years ago this week that Superstorm Sandy hit the Tri-State and destroyed homes, washed away neighborhoods and changed the way many things are done.

That includes the rebuilding of waterfront homes on Fire Island as the landscape has shifted in the past decades amid the lessons learned.

The surge was coming and it was so powerful there was nothing they could do to stop it from breaching Fire Island.

"It's hard to imagine what it was, that you would see that water this high just coming through town," said Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott.

And it took plenty with it.

In footage taken by the Ocean Beach Police Chief 10 years ago, and released to only recently, you can see how the ferry terminal was consumed and homes were broken or washed out to sea.

Mallot said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone paid them a visit in the immediate days after Sandy, and they thought he would tell them they would never be able to rebuild.

But fast forward a decade later and a pretty incredible transformation is taking place.

From the ferry you'll see how the $50 million in FEMA money has been spent-- a new terminal and waiting room, a new sewage treatment plant and well.

But there is also an everchanging and somewhat uneven landscape. For many, going home now means going way up.

"I think that everybody is going to have to raise their house eventually because the cost of flood insurance continues to escalate," said Fire Island resident Bruce Danziger.

However, critics say the houses are too big. All of Fire Island is 32 miles long and it is on a sandbar.

So new FEMA regulations dictate that homes being re-built start much higher -- as much as 18 feet higher along the water.

Some homes look nothing like those next door, the more traditional Fire Island bungalows.

Don Sussman has lived there for decades and his old home washed out to sea.

But his new one, while spectacular:

"I know that in six hours it could be gone, I know that," Sussman said. "I've seen what the ocean can do."

Ocean City Police Department chief George Hesse said he will not stay for the next superstorm to hit.

"It's Sandy for us every day, it has been for 10 years because we're still working on it," Mallott said.

And they are hoping that history never repeats itself.

ALSO READ | Study reveals long-lasting effects of stress on babies born during Superstorm Sandy

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