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Staten Islanders Reflect On Progress, Need 1 Year After Sandy Devastated Borough

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - A year after Superstorm Sandy workers on Staten Island's south shore were using 15,000 tons of sand to build a 10-foot-high berm.

As CBS 2's Elise Finch reported, Crescent Beach was one of many communities on Staten Island ravaged by Sandy.

The city's resiliency plan called for beach replenishment and the addition of dunes for the east and south shores of the borough.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg toured the site at Crescent Beach on Tuesday where the 2,000 foot long berm is going in.

"The trap bags will be completely encased in sand all the way around it, so you won't see them. But if a storm happens, then that sand that's on it - that foot or two of sand that's there washes away - the core of the dune will still be there and still protect the neighborhood," construction manager Everett Wade told Finch.

Nearly half of the south and east-facing homes there were destroyed during Superstorm Sandy.

The waves overran the beach and raced several hundred yards. The water rose as high as 10 feet.

Berm Going In Along Crescent Beach

Bloomberg thanked the workers for their service. He was told that the FEMA-funded project will be done by year's end.

As CBS 2's Dave Carlin reported, the new dunes at Crescent Beach gave some Sandy survivors higher hopes that next time will be different.

"It's a start -- they're here at 5 in the morning; leave in the late afternoon," said Deirdre Michielini of Great Kills, Staten Island. "They are helping us out a lot."

But some homeowners said they're not at all confident that Staten Island could withstand another major storm.

"The water was up past the 10-foot mark on the house, so I don't think I don't think a four-foot Sand dune is going to do much," said Greg Zaccinino.

"I don't think we're near anywhere ready for this and if another Sandy hits, we're done," one resident said.

"Have we learned a lot? Sure. But there's no way to get a city this size ready within one year," U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) told Finch.

Elsewhere in the borough, 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.

One Year Later: Remembering Sandy | Photos: Before & After

"This is like our archives," Laurie said. "To let people know that this happened. It was here. And we survived."

Two people, James Rossi and Ella Norris, drowned here during the storm. Residents recently mounted a stone memorial in the grass near the creek to honor them.

"Jimmy walked his dog here every day," Rossi's cousin, Diane Hague, said as she knelt down before it silently on a recent afternoon. "It's fitting that we have something so beautiful to represent the people that we lost."

In Dongan Hills, the Hylan Medicine Cabinet, a family-owned pharmacy, has reopened but it's still a long road back for many in the storm-battered borough.

"You can see, right next door to me is closed. A big car dealership on the other side of me is closed. I don't know if they're coming back. We're back and we're trying and it's hard," pharmacy owner Roger Malerba told 1010 WINS' Steve Sandberg. "We have $3 million of insurance so it's a year now. We still haven't gotten a penny."

Hylan Medicine Cabinet is one mile in from the ocean, but it took 15 days for the waters to recede.

"The ones of us who are open start from zero. It's like starting a new business," Malerba said.

In New Dorp, the struggles continue one year later. Residents said there is still a great need.

Staten Islanders Reflect On Progress, Need 1 Year After Sandy Devastated Borough

"It's amazing. They think everything's fine because it's not in the news anymore. Where we were a couple of months after the storm, we're in the same spot," one man told Sandberg.

Two days after the storm, President Barack Obama landed in Miller Field to meet with residents of New Dorp.

"He was right outside this gate and he said he's going to send money, send help. It's just not here," one man said.

As WCBS 880's Monica Miller reported, Donna Graziano from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn volunteered in New Dorp after Sandy to help hold the community together when everything else fell apart.

"Handing someone a plate or a smile - that little bit, one person can make a difference in the world," Graziano said.

New Dorp Tent City Founder Reflects On Sandy Anniversary

The mother of two who lost her job because of Sandy discovered how devastated the neighborhood near Cedar Grove Avenue was while dropping off donated clothes to a friend.

"World War III. Really. Looked like a war zone," she recalled.

Staten Island Tent City New Dorp Beach
Tent city in New Dorp Beach, Staten Island - April 23, 2013 (credit: Jim Smith / WCBS 880)

Her response was to build a makeshift home away from home out 10 tents that ran around the clock.

"I was so depressed I wasn't eating. That's how good she was, she would come and bring me food," a man named Joseph said.

"The biggest thank you is never enough," another Cedar Grove Avenue resident said.

The city made her take the tents down in April.

"Even a year later, they're still struggling," Graziano told Miller.

She said they provided much more than shelter in a community without power.

"It wasn't just tents. We joked, we laughed, the kids were able to play," she said.

Fresh mulch and plants have replaced the tents. A plaque commemoration ceremony is taking place Tuesday to remember what happened there and the 23 residents who lost their lives.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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