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Abandoned Buildings, Red Tape Mark a Year on Staten Island

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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 year since Hurricane Sandy, Staten Island neighborhoods like Ocean Breeze have seen little progress in their recovery efforts. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

It has been one year since Hurricane Sandy landed on Staten Island, destroying many of its waterfront neighborhoods. Despite an outpouring of volunteer support and a huge cleanup effort, these communities are still visibly suffering from the impact of the storm. In neighborhoods like Ocean Breeze, Midland Beach, and New Dorp, ruined buildings, abandoned homes, empty lots and overgrown foundations remain a common sight. A host of government programs have assisted residents during their recovery, but many homeowners are frustrated by the lack of progress and are not planning to return.

"It's been hell," said Jean Laurie, the president of the Ocean Breeze Civic Association, whose neighborhood and house were badly damaged by the storm surge. "We still don't have a home," she said. "Before you know it, it's going to be two years. And then what?" After demolishing their storm-damaged residence in April, Jean and her husband Burt hoped they would be able to rebuild quickly. But, like several of their neighbors, their lot remains empty. "I don't know anyone on Staten who has built a new house," said Burt. "There is too much red tape."

"We still don't have a home. Before you know it, it's going to be two years. And then what?" ?Jean Laurie, president, Ocean Breeze Civic Association

Most residents in Ocean Breeze have given up on the idea of rebuilding, and now hope to sell their entire neighborhood to the state to be demolished, much like the buyout planned for nearby Oakwood Beach, where 400 homes will be torn down and the land returned to nature. "They should never have houses here, never," said Joe Herrnkind, a 15-year resident of Ocean Breeze whose home was destroyed by flooding. "The buyout is the only way," said Herrnkind. "I'm looking for a buyout from the government only. No one else. Knowing what I know, I don't want anyone else to suffer this way." In sharp contrast to the headway made in the Rockaways, Staten Island's storm recovery seems far from complete.

October 2013: In the empty lot where their home once stood, Jean and Burt Laurie display a handmade protest sign. Like 5,500 Staten Island residents, they registered for the city's Build It Back program. They are still waiting to receive a phone call from the government.

October 2013: Their collection of photos documents the damage in Ocean Breeze, where 20 houses were destroyed. About 30 of the remaining 109 homes are occupied, according to the Staten Island Advance.

November 2012: In the days after the storm, Jean Laurie and her husband helped coordinate with volunteers to distribute supplies from in front of their flood-damaged home.

April 2013: When her home was demolished in April, Jean planned to rebuild quickly. "We want to revitalize the area," she told Curbed at the time. "We don't want to leave it in shambles."

April 2013: Jean still hopes to rebuild, but "almost every single home owner that is here has signed up for the buyout," according to her neighbor Joe Herrnkind. "You'd have to be crazy to stay."

October 2013: One year after the storm, empty homes in Ocean Breeze are still being gutted by city workers. Roughly 400 people are waiting to rebuild their homes in Staten Island, according to the Staten Island Advance.

October 2013: Progress has come to a standstill in several Staten Island neighborhoods. In Midland Beach, this pile of debris from a ruined building has sat next to a local home for the entire year. Abandoned and empty homes can be found throughout the area.

October 2013: In New Dorp Beach, where many homes were demolished after the storm, empty lots line the streets, waiting for new construction to commence.

April 2013: This pile of debris was once Anderson's Annex, a 57-year-old bar near Prince's Bay that was crushed by Hurricane Sandy. Its ruins sat on the sidewalk for over six months.

September 2013: By Labor Day weekend, the building's foundation had been filled in and returned to nature, like many landmarks around the island.

April 2013: St. John's Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in Oakwood Beach was also knocked off its foundation and sat empty for over six months.

September 2013: After finally being demolished, the church has yet to be rebuilt. Its footprint has been overtaken by nature.

December 2012: Oakwood Beach suffered some of the worst devastation in Staten Island. Homes were swept into the nearby marshland during the storm surge and flipped upside down.

October 2013: Few artifacts remain from these vanished homes. Of the houses that remain, "the state will buy some 400 homes, bulldoze them and never again allow anything to be built here," according to the Huffington Post. "Oakwood Beach will finally surrender to the sea."

April 2013: Kissam Avenue was the hardest hit area in Oakwood Beach, and nearly a dozen properties along the route were demolished by the storm. Only about six remain standing, according to the Staten Island Advance.

September 2013: Nature is slowly returning to the avenue, which is surrounded by wetlands and borders the ocean. The state buyout program is now proceeding, with the state having purchased about a dozen homes. The first house was demolished last week, according to NBC New York.

October 2013: An abandoned backyard swimming pool is one of the only reminders that a neighborhood once stood here. "Kissam Avenue used to be a fun beachfront community; now it's a ghost town," one resident told the Staten Island Advance.

October 2013: When the next storm comes to Staten Island, the landscape of its waterfront communities will be completely changed, as New York's government returns the land to nature.  
?Nathan Kensinger
· Nathan Kensinger [official]
· Tracing a Post-Storm Year of Change in the Rockaways [Curbed]
· Hurricane Sandy coverage [Curbed]
· Camera Obscura archives [Curbed]