No one expected the ocean to meet the bay in Long Beach like it did during superstorm Sandy, and now, five years later, representatives of the barrier island community noted the storm brought them together as much as it tore things apart.
City officials and residents gathered Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the storm, moving the event inside as torrential rain and gusty winds buffeted the city as if in an acknowledgment of the Oct. 29, 2012, storm.
“It’s surreal to stand here five years after superstorm Sandy made landfall in Long Beach. Not a resident was untouched by the storm. So many of us here lost so much,” City Manager Jack Schnirman said at the event in Long Beach City Hall. “The damage was catastrophic. Many thought Long Beach would never recover. Boy were they wrong. Look how far we’ve come.”
The tidal surge from the Atlantic Ocean flooded the city and destroyed the boardwalk on the south side as waves from the bay on the north roared into homes and infrastructure along Reynolds Channel.
The storm caused $150 million in damage to the city’s infrastructure, including the water and sewer treatment plants.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said Sandy was a wake-up call for local governments to improve infrastructure and expedite the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to protect the beach and bayside from future storms.
“With all the devastation Sandy brought, this was a moment that galvanized the community,” Kaminsky said. “Regular people stepped up and became heroes. That’s what Long Beach is about. We all know how worse it could have been.”
Local officials said neighbors came together to help recover after the storm, and the city’s Martin Luther King Center became a resource shelter for those flooded from their homes to get clothing and food. Nearly 90 percent of residents have either returned home or relocated, but many residents are still raising their homes or staying with relatives until they can return, officials said.
“So much of what we’re still working on is Sandy-related. Sandy is not over yet,” said Assemb. Melissa Miller (R-Atlantic Beach). “The storms are continuing stronger and so many people are still not home.”
City leaders thanked the first responders from around the country who helped during the storm and those who helped rebuild.
Long Beach officials echoed the slogan used since Sandy: the city was rebuilt, “stronger, smarter, safer.”
The Long Beach boardwalk was reconstructed in a year with $42 million in federal funds. The Army Corps is expected to complete a $230 million dune and jetty project on the beach by next spring. Engineers are still conducting a Back Bays study while the city constructs a $12.5 million bulkhead project along public land.
Councilwoman Chumi Diamond read a proclamation on behalf of the council declaring Oct. 29 every year to be “Community Day” to recognize the efforts after Sandy.
Councilwoman Anissa Moore stood at the podium and sang the song “Feels Like Home” to mark the anniversary.
“Five years ago, Sandy would forever change our lives,” Moore said. “It revealed the boundary of our neighborhoods did not matter. It revealed the beauty of the Long Beach family. We realized the storm could not wash away our memories and strength that lies within our city.”