2 years after Sandy, N.Y., N.J. plan for next big storm

Jennifer Pelt; and Wayne Parry
Associated Press

New York – — After Superstorm Sandy, officials in New York and New Jersey vowed to make sure the unprecedented destruction wouldn’t happen again.

Two years later, would it?

There are some concrete signs of tougher protections, from a nearly-finished sea wall protecting two devastated New Jersey towns to a Long Island boardwalk rebuilt to serve as a retaining wall. New floodgates protect a power plant where Sandy plunged miles of Manhattan into darkness and some homes sit higher while other buildings boast new flood barriers.

Enhanced preparedness has hardened backup power systems at hospitals, forged new systems to flood-proof subway vents, installed generators at dozens of gas stations, redrawn evacuation-zone maps and reshaped emergency plans.

But many planned projects are still years off and some ideas still under study. Thousands of homeowners await repair aid, some of it coupled with steps to make homes safer. Some efforts to buy out flood-prone homes haven’t gotten takers in the worst-hit areas. And across the coast, a patchwork of protections leaves some areas more vulnerable than others.

Still, officials and disaster-preparedness experts see meaningful movement on a complicated problem that could take decades to remedy.

“The region is better prepared for a storm like Sandy,” said Rockefeller Foundation President and resilience expert Judith Rodin. “I could never say that everyone is or should be satisfied with the rate of progress, but things are progressing.”

It feels that way to Bill Burns as he watches city-paid contractors boost his Brooklyn home up about four feet, on a new foundation with conduits for water to flow underneath.

“This is going to make this house a lot safer to live in,” he says.

But on Long Island, Anna Ervolina feels more vulnerable, not less. Architects have said she can’t elevate her Long Beach home, and though the city has some new protections, she fears it remains fragile.

“I don’t think it will take another Sandy to cause damage,” says Ervolina, who has yet to move back to her house.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research study on community resiliency surveyed residents in 12 neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey that were damaged when Superstorm Sandy struck the region in 2012.

The survey found that residents in tight-knit communities feel that their neighborhoods were prepared for and could withstand disasters more so than those living in areas that are not as connected.