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Tracing A Post-Storm Year of Change in the Rockaways

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This three-part photo essay traces the recovery efforts in the year since Hurricane Sandy, as documented by photographer Nathan Kensinger. Throughout the year, his Hurricane Sandy photo essays have appeared in Curbed's Camera Obscura column. His photographs are also included in exhibits opening this week at the Museum of the City of New York and the Brooklyn Historical Society, which are dedicated to the one-year anniversary of the storm.


[In the past year, residents in the Rockaways have worked non-stop to recover from Hurricane Sandy, including new homes now being built in Breezy Point. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

In the year since Hurricane Sandy decimated New York City's waterfront, a massive recovery effort has been launched to clean and rebuild areas affected by the storm. FEMA has allocated more than $8.3 billion in disaster assistance to the recovery effort, and the city has already completed several multi-million dollar storm abatement projects. These post-storm improvements are most visible in the Rockaway Peninsula, which has made significant progress in coming back from the storm.

The many small neighborhoods that make up the Rockaways are slowly recovering. In Belle Harbor, flooded homes have been emptied, gutted, and rebuilt. In Breezy Point, scores of destroyed bungalows have been dismantled, their foundations removed, and new houses built in their places. And along Rockaway Beach, nearly 100 blocks of sand dunes, baffle walls and storm barriers have been built to protect residents from future storms.

"I think there has been tremendous progress."?Sam Fleischner, Rockaway resident and filmmaker

"I think there has been tremendous progress," said Rockaway resident Sam Fleischner, whose recent film "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors" was shot during Hurricane Sandy and premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. "I'm also still amazed by the sand replacement project. It is so nice to have a beach back, even if it only lasts for five years." Most residents of the Rockaways plan to continue living on the waterfront, and when compared to other parts of the city affected by the storm, they are much closer to realizing that goal.

November 2012: Breezy Point, a gated community at the western tip of the Rockaways, was one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy.

November 2012: During the storm, "about 350 of Breezy's 2,837 homes - 12% - were destroyed by fire or flood or subsequently demolished," according to USA Today.

May 2013: Six months after the storm, the foundations of demolished bungalows were still being removed from the sand covered landscape.

August 2013: By Labor Day weekend, new homes had started to reappear in the neighborhood, some of the first to be finished in New York City since the storm.
 

October 2013: Several new homes have now been built in Breezy Point. These structures are significantly taller then their predecessors and are elevated above the beach level.

October 2013: Unlike some neighborhoods destroyed by the storm, a large percentage of Breezy Point residents have decided to return. "Six months ago, 85% were empty," according to USA Today, but now the area is "a community two-thirds' full."

November 2012: Hurricane Sandy also had a devastating impact in nearby Belle Harbor, where "the storm swept through, taking with it nearly two dozen businesses and as many homes," according to Crain's.

October 2013: Today, the neighborhood is protected by a new storm barrier consisting of "more than 7,500 bags filled with 20,000 tons of sand," according to CBS New York, which "stretch from Beach 55th Street to Beach 149th Street."

November 2012: All of the mansions along the Belle Harbor seaside were damaged during the storm surge, which pushed sand, water and debris into the neighborhood.

October 2013: Alongside the storm barrier, these homes are now protected by a mile-long baffle wall. "The concrete wall is connected to 22-foot deep pilings and extends four feet above ground," according to WNYC.

November 2012: Some homes in the area were too badly damaged to be repaired, and were demolished over the course of the year.

October 2013: Those homes have been replaced by empty lots fronted by newly repaired streets and fire hydrants. Several of these lots are now for sale, awaiting the construction of new homes.

November 2012: In Rockaway Beach, the storm pushed the boardwalk into neighborhood streets. The city later demolished the wreckage, replacing it with a concrete walkway.

April 2013: "More than $140 million was invested to repair and restore Rockaway Beach," according to the NYC Parks Department, including the creation of several new comfort stations.

October 2013: By the end of the summer season, the comfort stations were complete. They faced a much different oceanfront landscape.

August 2013: A new sand berm was created along the beach by the US Army Corps of Engineers, "at an elevation of 10 feet above mean low water."

August 2013: When complete, the Army Corps will have placed more than three million cubic yards of new sand on Rockaway Beach, restoring it to its original 1970s size.

August 2013: As a result of the repair work, more than three million people visited the Rockaway Beach this summer, according to the parks department. With all these improvements, life on the Rockaways will continue, at least until the next storm.
?Nathan Kensinger
· Nathan Kensinger [official]
· Hurricane Sandy coverage [Curbed]
· Camera Obscura archives [Curbed]