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Rebuilding Continues 3 Years After Superstorm Sandy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Three years after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the coasts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, signs of recovery are still all around.

Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, with neighborhoods in New York City like the Rockaways, Breezy Point and Belle Harbor taking much of the brunt of the worst natural disaster in the city's history.

"I ask all New Yorkers to remember those who were lost and those whose lives were forever changed by this terrible storm," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "As a state, we are not just rebuilding what was before – we are making our communities safer and smarter, and rising to meet the challenges posed by climate change and extreme weather. We are seizing every opportunity to reimagine New York to be stronger and more resilient for generations to come."

The governor is calling for a moment of silence at 8 p.m. Thursday, the time when the storm surge first began in New York City, in honor of the 61 people who lost their lives because of the storm in New York state.

In Queens, a group of volunteers are spending the anniversary working 24 hours straight prepping and priming the walls of a home on Burchell Avenue for painting.

Evelyn Stevens owns the home. During Sandy, a 12-foot tidal surge gutted the bottom level. She's been living upstairs ever since.

"Cramped, very cramped," she told CBS2's Ilana Gold. "The living room is full of stuff from downstairs. I have lost my freedom for space."

And rebuilding has come at a hefty price. She said she spent her life savings fixing the plumbing ruined by the storm and still has no heat.

"I didn't know how it was going to get done, and it's getting done now," she said. "It means eventually I will have a warm, cozy, clean house to come to after a hard day's work."

Workers from a nonprofit called Friends of Rockaway stepped in and have been rebuilding her place since June. Just this year, they've also fixed up 60 other homes damaged by Sandy.

"Every day, every week we get calls from the community applying for services for the first time," said Thomas Corley with Friends of Rockaway. "There are still hundreds of people here who need assistance, who are living in storm-damaged property."

Their goal is to finish up construction in December. Stevens can't wait to celebrate the holidays in her home with her family for the first time in three years.

Friends of Rockaway said there are already 25 people on the waiting list for next year to fix their storm-damaged homes.

In Breezy Point, where 355 homes were lost to flooding or fire, almost 300 homes have been rebuilt.

"Every day, it's getting a little bit better,'' says Arthur Lighthall, general manager of the Breezy Point Cooperative.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that the Build It Back single-family home program will be complete by the end of 2016 and that all reimbursement checks have been sent out to homeowners.

"Last year, we were fixing Build It Back and now we're finishing it, committing to completing the program and getting families home by the end of next year," de Blasio said in a statement. "Even as we work to get every family home, we are also aggressively moving to address the risks of climate change. We're already safer today than we were three years ago, and we will continue to implement our comprehensive $20 billion resiliency plan across the five boroughs."

The mayor also fired a shot at former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.

"There hadn't been a single construction start, there hadn't been a single reimbursement check given out well over a year after the storm," de Blasio said.

Build It Back projects are in various stages of construction all around the city. Officials say more than 1,200 homes have been completed citywide, 433 of them in Queens.

PHOTOS: Sandy Slams Tri-State | Aftermath From Above

On Long Island, some residents are still trying to return home, too.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, 5 feet of seawater destroyed the Amorosas' Island Park home.

"We lost everything, and anything that we did salvage, we put in a storage pod, and a couple of months later that storage pod flooded," said Dominick Amorosa.

Their house is a work in progress. While it's being elevated, they can't live there because there's no siding, heat or hot water. They've been staying in hotels and rental units and staying with relatives an hour away.

They are waiting on grant money to complete the elevation.

"She go to a friend's house, and they play in the bedroom, and she comes home and says, 'Where's my bedroom?'" Nora Amorosa says of her daughter. "So it's heartbreaking."

"I'm paying taxes and mortgage on a house I haven't lived in in three years, so it's time that we go home," Dominick Amorosa said.

The head of New York Rising, an agency built from scratch in the storm's aftermath to invest $4 billion in recovery, said nearly all of the 14,000 Long Island victims who applied for government grants have received awards.

"The next storm that comes in, thousands of people will be in a position where the water will go under their house and not through their house," said Jon Kaiman, special adviser on Superstorm Storm relief.

Forty-five Long Island communities are also getting $250 million in federal grants through New York Rising to strengthen storm resiliency.

In New Jersey, events to celebrate and to criticize recovery efforts are taking place around the state.

Residents displaced by the storm continue to camp out across from the Statehouse in Trenton in a protest that began Tuesday.

State and local officials held a ceremony to commemorate the completion of part of a beach replenishment project in Cape May County.

Equipment in Sea Isle City is being broken down and moved to Ocean City as the $57.6 million project continues.

The project, which began in April, was designed to provide southern Ocean City, the Strathmere section of Upper Township and Sea Isle City greater protection from flooding, and reduced impacts from coastal erosion during storms.

The completed portion is one of several along the New Jersey coastline being funded by $1.2 billion appropriated by Congress to rebuild the state's beaches following Sandy.

Officials in Middlesex County are discussing a milestone in flood-prone home purchases through a state program.

During the storm, a huge tidal surge from the Meadowlands and Hackensack River poured into Little Ferry and Moonachie, where repairs in the area are still ongoing.

On Werneking Place, Andrea Livecchi's home was submerged for three weeks.

"We had no electricity and no heat for three weeks," she told 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck. "My daughter-in-law was pregnant; we were sleeping on floors. It was like sleeping in a third-world country."

Seventy-year-old Pete Greco and his wife have lived on Werneking Place for 44 years and his stomach turns when he recalls Sandy.

"Sickening, I never had the water before, it was the first time, it just came pouring in" Greco said.

Since the storm, Greco said the mayor of Little Ferry has done good work in trying to fix things, but they need a longterm solution for protection from the river.

"They gotta fix, they're talking about it but I think personally I'll be in the ground before they finish it," Greco said.

Gov. Chris Christie traveled to Moonachie Thursday to meet with small business owners who were flooded.

Christie said more than $120 million in recovery grants and loans have been approved for 1,200 small businesses, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

"Were going to continue to meet the challenges head-on everybody," Christie said. "And noone is going to be forgotton."

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 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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