MANTOLOKING, N.J. (AP) — The 9-year-old girl who got New Jersey's tough-guy governor to shed a tear as he comforted her after her home was destroyed is bummed because she now lives far from her best friend and has nowhere to hang her One Direction posters.
A New Jersey woman whose home was overtaken by mold still cries when she drives through the area. A New York City man whose home burned can't wait to build a new one.
Six months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the Jersey shore and New York City and pounded coastal areas of New England, the region is dealing with a slow and frustrating, yet often hopeful, recovery. Tens of thousands of people remain homeless. Housing, business, tourism and coastal protection all remain major issues with the summer vacation — and hurricane — seasons almost here again.
"Some families and some lives have come back together quickly and well, and some people are up and running almost as if nothing ever happened, and for them it's been fine," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Thursday. "Some people are still very much in the midst of recovery. You still have people in hotel rooms, you still have people doubled up, you still have people fighting with insurance companies, and for them it's been terrible and horrendous."
Lynda Fricchione's flood-damaged home in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, N.J., is gutted; the roof was fixed just last week. The family is still largely living out of cardboard boxes in an apartment. But waiting for a final decision from federal and state authorities over new flood maps that govern the price of flood insurance is tormenting her and many others.
"The largest problem is, nobody really knows how high we're going to have to elevate the house," she said. "At town hall they told us 5 feet, but then they said it might go down to 3 feet in the summer. Most of us are waiting until the final maps come out. It's wait-and-see."
But more than anything, Fricchione is optimistic, buoyed by a recent trip to New Orleans with her daughter during which they met a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward who was one of the first to move back in after Hurricane Katrina inundated the neighborhood that has become a symbol of flood damage — and resilience.
"Talking to that man was wonderful!" Fricchione said. "He said it takes time and you just have to have hope and know it will all work out eventually."
By many measures, the recovery from Superstorm Sandy, which struck Oct. 29, has been slow. From Maryland to New Hampshire, the National Hurricane Center attributes 72 deaths directly to Sandy and 87 others indirectly from causes such as hypothermia due to power outages, carbon monoxide poisoning and accidents during cleanup efforts, for a total of 159.
The roller coaster that plunged off a pier in Seaside Heights, N.J., is still in the ocean, although demolition plans are finally moving forward. Scores of homes that were destroyed in nearby Mantoloking still look as they did the day after the storm — piles of rubble and kindling, with the occasional bathroom fixture or personal possession visible among the detritus.
Throughout the region, many businesses are still shuttered, and an already-tight rental market has become even more so because of the destruction of thousands of units and the crush of displaced storm victims looking to rent the ones that survived.
Homeowners are tortured by uncertainty over ever-changing rules on how high they'll need to rebuild their homes to protect against the next storm; insurance companies have not paid out all that many homeowners expected; and municipalities are borrowing tens of millions of dollars to keep the lights on, the fire trucks running and the police stations staffed, waiting for reimbursement from the federal government for storm expenditures they had to fund out of pocket.
And yet, by other measures, remarkable progress has been made. Boardwalks, the tourism lifeblood of the region, are springing back to life. A handful of homes are going up, and the whine of power saws and the thwack of hammers is everywhere in hard-hit beach towns as contractors fix what can be saved and bulldozers knock down what can't.
Volunteers in Highlands, N.J., are rebuilding the home of Bromlyn Link, the single mother of a 17-year-old boy, both of whom are members of the town's first aid squad and who spent 12 to 14 hours a day helping friends and neighbors forced to live in shelters for weeks after the storm.
Mantoloking, which was cut in half by the storm and saw all 521 of its homes damaged or destroyed, is creeping back to life. The post office recently, reopened, and the first of 50 demolitions will start next week, which is also when Mayor George Nebel will join the 40 other residents who have been able to move back home.