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Coney Island's Residents, Forgotten, Struggle to Recover

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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.


[Coney Island's neighborhoods, destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, remain unprepared to cope with future storms. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

In the year since Hurricane Sandy, the recovery efforts in Staten Island and the Rockaways have received much attention, but relatively little has been reported about Coney Island. Completely submerged by the Atlantic Ocean during the storm, several of its hidden neighborhoods are still suffering from devastating after-effects, and residents feel they have been forgotten. In the private community of Sea Gate, ruined mansions face the ocean and sea walls remain breached, while in Brighton Beach, humble bungalows obscured by narrow walking paths have been abandoned and left to rot, hastening an already precipitous decline.

"Over here, no one says anything?like it never happened."?Judd Fischler, Brighton Beach neighborhood association

It is clear that Coney Island is not prepared for another storm. Unlike the Rockaways, it has not built new baffle walls or sand berms. And unlike Staten Island, its residents are not planning on a state buyout to return their homes to nature.  "Over here, no one says anything?like it never happened," said Judd Fischler, who serves on the board of the Brighton Beach neighborhood association. "Down these lanes, these people got very hard hit. It hasn't been fully looked in to, what happened here," he said. "It's like we're abandoned over here." The boardwalk, roller coasters and hot dogs have returned for tourists, but life is far from normal for the residents of Coney Island.

November 2012: In Sea Gate, a private community at the western end of Coney Island, the damage from Hurricane Sandy was intense.

November 2012: Residents were inundated by a storm surge that destroyed parks, homes and sea walls. "Everybody's house was damaged," one resident told the Jewish Daily Forward. "I don't think anybody was spared in Sea Gate."

November 2012: All of the homes facing the ocean were damaged by the storm, and "it took the city sanitation department a month to clear the streets," according to the Forward. Electricity came back only after several weeks.

May 2013: Seven months later, homes were still being demolished by the city.  

October 2013: One year later, a pile of rubble remained at this demolition site.

November 2012: A rough-hewn wooden sea wall was not enough to keep the ocean away. Years before the storm, Sea Gate had declined to allow the government to build more substantial barriers.

October 2013: Sea Gate's private sea walls have yet to be repaired, although some residents have moved back in to waterfront homes.

October 2013: Neighbors have erected metal barriers to keep the ocean out, but this house is unprotected, while being offered for sale.

October 2013: An empty home remains open to the elements, waiting to be repaired. "The water is like a cancer," said one homeowner. "It was so bad. So bad."

May 2013: This ruined home sat empty on the Coney Island waterfront for over six months after the storm.  

October 2013: It was eventually cleaned up, and now remains an empty lot, waiting for new construction. Coney Island residents are "angry that it took so long for aid to reach them," as they told CBS News. "There is still so much that needs to be done."

October 2013: In Brighton Beach, many homes were inundated during the storm. "The water came rushing in," said Judd Fischler, who has lived in the area for 25 years. "Everybody was affected, one way or the other."

October 2013: Some storm-damaged bungalows in the area are now for sale, while others have been boarded up and left to raccoons and squatters, a common problem in the neighborhood.

October 2013: The owners of this home decided not to rebuild after the storm. "The people just closed up and left," said Fischler, who lives across the street.

October 2013: A handwritten sign announces that the building is for sale, although no work has been done since the house was flooded.

October 2013: This vacant house recently caught fire and burned. "The electric was never shut off, so there were squatters in there," said Fischler. "They must have been there for quite a while, at least a month."

October 2013: The future of these bungalows, like that of homes throughout Coney Island, is uncertain. "They're saying the neighborhood's going down," said Fischler, but "we are in no hurry to leave."
?Nathan Kensinger
· Nathan Kensinger [official]
· Tracing a Post-Storm Year of Change in the Rockaways [Curbed]
· Abandoned Buildings, Red Tape Mark a Year on Staten Island [Curbed]
· Hurricane Sandy coverage [Curbed]
· Camera Obscura archives [Curbed]