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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Until everyone comes home
Residents return post-Sandy, but at a price
Some finish rebuilding, while others remain displaced
By Alexandra Spychalsky
Christina Daly/Herald
The Gallo family, from left, Lorenzo, Desiree, Alex and Sam, on the balcony of their rebuilt Pennsylvania Avenue home.

More than 500 days after being displaced by Hurricane Sandy, which flooded her one-story bungalow in the West End, Sam Gallo finally came home on May 30, having given entirely new meaning to the term “red tape.”

“It’s kind of cliché, but there really is no place like home,” she said. “I just wish I had the ruby slippers sooner.”

Gallo is back in her Pennsylvania Avenue home, her children are once again playing with their friends on the block, and she is ecstatic to now have a highly prized West End luxury: a driveway and guaranteed parking. But, like many Long Beach residents, Gallo traveled a long, tough road back to a normal life.

“We didn’t think it would take anywhere near this amount of time,” she said. “It’s just been an incredibly difficult journey.”

Gallo’s home was one of 865 in Long Beach that were deemed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be substantially damaged, meaning that the cost of repairs would be more than half the appraised value. Owners of those homes were told to either elevate them or rebuild them.

Nearly 20 months after Sandy devastated Long Beach, recovery, for many, is not yet a thing of the past. City officials estimate that fewer than 5 percent of residents remain displaced — roughly 1,750 people. But while some are on the brink of returning home, progress for others has stagnated while they wait for grant programs to distribute funds.

In February 2013, after months of getting what she described as the “run-around” from her insurance company, Gallo decided to wrap her home in red tape, symbolizing the bureaucratic delays that she said were preventing her from receiving insurance money. It was a symbolic statement on behalf of everyone in Long Beach, she said. The fight with her insurance company continued for another year. And her stress, she said, was augmented by the NY Rising grant process.

“We didn’t expect it to be as much of a full-time job and labor-intensive as it was,” she said. “It completely took over our lives.”

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