NEW YORK (AP) — Residents of coastal neighborhoods battered by Superstorm Sandy one year ago Tuesday are marking the day in ways both public and private, remembering the fierce floodwaters that destroyed their livelihoods but also the communities that came together to help each other pull through.
Elected officials toured hard-hit areas in New York and New Jersey and thanked emergency workers, while survivors planned to light candles and flashlights to pay their respects to what was lost when the storm roared ashore last year.
Debbie Fortier, of Brick, N.J., drove to Seaside Park on Tuesday hoping to speak with Gov. Chris Christie, who was visiting several Sandy-ravaged towns. Walking out arm-in-arm with him after he had finished speaking at the firehouse, she told Christie how her family's house had to be torn down and how her family has yet to receive any aid.
"We're physically, emotionally and spiritually just drained," she said after Christie left. "Does anybody hear us?"
She said she is on a waiting list "for everything" and is particularly bitter that her family started to repair their storm-damaged house, only to have inspectors later tell them it was too badly damaged to fix. They then had to knock it down and move into a friend's basement.
"How long am I supposed to wait?" she asked. "It's been a year. You can't just not move forward."
Yet Fortier said she takes Christie at his word that help is on the way — whenever that might be.
On Staten Island, residents will light candles by the stretch of waterfront closest to their homes at 7:45 p.m. in a "Light the Shore" vigil. Along the Jersey shore, people plan to shine flashlights in a symbolic triumph over the darkness that Sandy brought.
The day is stirring up frightening memories for people who survived the waves and wind that lashed their homes.
"People are terrified of the ocean, even though we've lived here all our lives," said Lily Corcoran, who lives in the New York City coastal neighborhood of Belle Harbor. "We're all terrified of the water and what it can do."
Sandy made landfall at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore. In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city's subway and commuter rail tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.
The storm was blamed for at least 181 deaths in the U.S. — including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey — and property damages estimated at $65 billion.
In Rockaway's Breezy Point, where nearly 130 homes burned to the ground after the storm, residents will plant sea grass on sand dunes. Small businesses on Staten Island are hosting a block party to celebrate their recovery and drum up business.
President Barack Obama said in a statement Tuesday that the last year has served as a reminder of the "strength and resilience of the American people." He said strangers helped one another and entire communities came together to heal.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo kicked off what was billed as a "Sandy Resiliency Tour" in lower Manhattan at the National Museum of the American Indian, which was temporarily shut down last year by flooding and power outages. He said the city and state are now better equipped to withstand extreme weather.
"Sometimes it takes a crisis to appreciate a new reality," he said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg toured Crescent Beach on Staten Island, where a 10-foot storm surge destroyed homes. A 10-foot-high berm is being built by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the shore form future storms.
Bloomberg thanked workers for their service and was told the project, which is being refunded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would be done by year's end.
In Staten Island, where Sandy killed 23 people, there are still plenty of reminders of the storm. Wallboard and debris are piled on front lawns. Bungalows are covered in plywood. "Restricted Use" signs are plastered on many front doors.
Resident Jean Laurie is about to break ground on a new home that will be constructed on stilts 13 feet in the air. Propped up on the grass on her tiny plot of land, mounted on a piece of poster board, are photographs taken of the devastated neighborhood after the storm.
"This is like our archives," Laurie said. "To let people know that this happened. It was here. And we survived."
Associated Press reporters Wayne Parry in Seaside Park, N.J., and Jonathan Lemire and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.