(CBS News) LONG BEACH ISLAND, N.J. - Six weeks after superstorm Sandy, FEMA said more than half a million homeowners want federal help. At least 356,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, most in New York and New Jersey. But it turns out many other homes were not damaged because they were protected by million-dollar sand dunes
Jeff Davis rode out Sandy in his home on New Jersey's Long Beach Island. "We were lucky, we were lucky," he said.
His house was saved by a wall of sand, part of $16.8 million Army Corps of Engineers project completed six months before Sandy.
"They basically brought the waves to a stand-still at this point," said Stew Farrell as he walked along a sand barrier. He is a coastal geologist examining how sand barriers stopped rising water pushed ashore by the storm.
"In places where the projects had not been constructed," said Farrell, "the damage was extensive and in some cases catastrophic."
Since 1986, the federal government helped New Jersey pay $700 million to build sand walls as high as 22 feet. But some critics, including Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, call it a beach bailout.
"What we need to do is reorient funding so cost is picked up by localities rather than tax payer. When you look at sea level rise, you're looking at a situation where we're not going to be able to hold back ocean with just sand any more.
Jeff Davis agreed with neighbors who opposed the dunes because they restricted beach access and blocked views. What he sees today has changed his mind.
"Can I put that crow down that I'm eating?" he joked.
President Obama has requested that Congress allocate $60.4 billion for Hurricane Sandy aid. An unspecified amount will go toward re-building protective dunes washed away by Sandy.