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Long Beach 'comeback crew' reflects on Sandy at lantern-lighting event

On the anniversary of superstorm Sandy, the Kennedy

On the anniversary of superstorm Sandy, the Kennedy Plaza fountain outside Long Beach City Hall glowed with the reflection of hundreds of lanterns bearing inspirational phrases like "God Bless Long Beach" as part of a ceremony organized by Project 11561, a grassroots organization that formed in the aftermath of the storm. (Oct. 29, 2013) Credit: Mary Kate Mahoney

The scene on Kennedy Plaza outside Long Beach City Hall could not have been more different Tuesday night than it was exactly one year prior. A crowd of more than 1,500 residents gathered for a lantern-lighting ceremony to reflect on the anniversary of superstorm Sandy.

The evening was filled with hope and even a sense of celebration that the community had survived one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the area.

“We here, all of us, are the comeback crew,” said Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman in his address to the crowd. “We won’t stop until everything is built stronger, smarter, safer.”

The ceremony was organized by Project 11561, a grassroots organization formed by four local mothers, Jessie Farrell, Allison Kallelis, Jackie Wilkinson and Heather O’Grady, who met in the aftermath of the storm.

Throughout the last year, the women organized several events to bring residents together and repair the physical damage wrought by Sandy. In April, Project 11561 organized a cleanup weekend, which included a kids cleanup scavenger hunt. Later in the year they sponsored a “Welcome to the West End” tile mural wall that was designed by Long Beach High School art students and erected in an area hit hard by the storm.

Project 11561’s efforts reflected the strong sense of community shared by many residents of Long Beach. John Concepicion, 67, had to leave his home when it flooded during the storm.

But thanks to the help of neighbors, Hilda and Noel O’Connell, he has somewhere to stay until the initial cleanup was over.

“We’re very proud here in Long Beach,” Concepicion said.

Following a nondenominational blessing and a brief address from the town manager, attendees were invited to place glowing lanterns into the fountain outside City Hall. Many of the lanterns were written on, bearing messages like “God Bless Long Beach” and “Stronger than ever.”

“We [the Project 11561 mothers] all met as a result of the storm and were in the same mindset that we want to bring happiness to a town that really needed it,” said Farrell. “It’s amazing how much people are willing to help out when you ask.”

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