These days, Haim Haddad, owner of the Coney Island Beach Shop, plugs a tiny, square digital device into his cellphone or iPad to process credit-card payments. Aside from a generator that provides enough juice to supply part of his store's needs and a sporadic WiFi connection, the device is one of the few resources his small business still has. On Oct. 29, the store, located about 200 yards from the Atlantic, lay immediately in the path of what proved to be the most powerful storm to hit the region in 100 years.
"I have no phone line, and all my electrical equipment is swimming in the ocean," Haddad says.
While the overall number of those without power is shrinking in the two months following Superstorm Sandy, many businesses and homeowners in New York City's worst-hit areas, including Coney Island, remain without power. To business owners like Haddad—whose store filled with about four feet of water that destroyed about $150,000 to $170,000 worth of merchandise—this is small comfort. Of his four beach shops, this one on Stillwell Avenue and two others on the boardwalk survived. But a fourth store, just 300 ft away in the subway terminal, was destroyed. Floodwaters knocked out power to the terminal after the storm.
But Haddad does not like to complain. Referring to his pleas for the city to restore his power, he says in his heavy Israeli accent, "I'm patient, because fighting is no help." He recently applied for a loan to help him replace the damaged goods.
"In the beginning, FEMA says, 'I'm going to give you small businesses some money,' but then they forget about that—but they do a lot," he says, quickly adding that he understands the enormous task facing the agency. "I think their first priority is the private people [homeowners]."
Haddad's situation is not uncommon in this part of Coney Island, where generators hum at various locations. City workers and private contractors are easy to spot on the beach and in Tom's Coney Island, a boardwalk restaurant that has been serving as a neighborhood meeting place for post-Sandy cleanup organizers and volunteers. Many parts of Coney Island—which is really a peninsula and a longtime tourist destination with an iconic amusement park, aquarium and other attractions—are under construction due to the storm and will be for quite some time.
To that end, one crew of gas fitters, who did not want to be identified because they are not official spokespeople for their firm, told ENR the hard work that homeowners now face has just begun.
The once-flooded homes they have been inspecting are now dry and stripped of damaged Sheetrock, says one crew member. "Things are a lot worse than what they appear to be in the news," he says. "Just about everybody needs a new boiler or water heater. ... We go into a lot of houses that have had nine feet of water in them." Even though the city is gaining ground, he says, repair work "is not something that will be done quickly."
A co-worker agrees, saying, "Most homeowners have already been in touch with FEMA and [a program called NYC] Rapid Repairs, so they at least have a game plan. But most houses have been abandoned." He estimates each house has at least $40,000 to $50,000 in damages.
To reduce the number of abandoned homes and make them habitable, the city in partnership with FEMA launched the NYC Rapid Repairs program on Nov. 9. The program enlists teams of contractors and city inspectors to make emergency repairs to storm-damaged residences. Repair work includes the permanent or temporary restoration of heat, power and hot water as well as "other limited repairs" to protect a home from further significant damage, the city says. Once the team completes its work, it is up to the homeowner to complete permanent repairs.
The program does not include abatement work, however, says Lou Coletti, president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers' Association, whose website allowed contractors to register to be part of Rapid Repairs. Under the program, the city assigned six general contractors—Conti Construction, Gilbane, Judlau Contracting, Navillus Contracting, Skanska Civil USA and Tutor Perini—to one of six specific geographic areas. The GCs, in turn, assign teams of contractors to do the work.
More than 2,000 contractors registered for the program, though not all of them will be part of the program, Coletti says. The GCs and the city each vet the contractors and then put out bids for work. Rapid Repairs does not include indemnification.
The program is one of several federal, state and local initiatives. Jimmy Kokotas, owner of Tom's Coney Island, says groups such as the Coney Island Development Corp. have been busy, helping to bring about 3,000 volunteers to the region since the storm.
Tom's, located about 100 yards from the water, opened only five weeks before the storm struck, Kokotas says. The ground floor of his two-story, 5,000-sq-ft building took on about four feet of water, but the second-story restaurant, level with the boardwalk, incurred no significant damage. Much of the flooding in the neighborhood resulted from a confluence of ocean water flowing under the boardwalk and sewer overflows, he says.
Kokotas' restaurant is about 10 feet off the ground. "Other than losing power, the businesses along the boardwalk for the most part were OK," he adds.
Kokotas says he feels fortunate for that, especially because he knows of homes in nearby Gerritsen Beach that remain without gas or electricity "and don't know when they will get it." Kokotas' personal residence in nearby Bergen Beach was flooded, too.
Kokotas says FEMA and other authorities have their hands full and that Coney Island's recovery will be a gradual process. "The first weekend, it was about food, blankets, clothing. The second weekend it was mops, brooms, cleanup supplies, bleach, gloves, masks. Now, food is not a big deal at all, and neither are cleaning supplies," he says. The next and hardest step, he adds, is to bring the region back and, if lucky, make it even better than it was before.