A wave of water washed away most of the homes in Breezy Point Queens, and many that remained were destroyed by fire. One year later, many residents say they've taken recovery efforts into their own hands. NY1's Arlene Borenstein filed the following report.
George Keeler, a 73-year-old Breezy Point resident, and his wife joined dozens of other volunteers Tuesday to plant sea grass along a new sand dune, virtually the only barrier between their homes and the ocean.
"He's the digger. I'm the hander-over the grass," his wife said.
Residents and elected officials got on their hands and knees on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy's landfall, digging, shoveling and planting.
Miriam Hoban's family has lived in the beachfront neighborhood since 1927. She said that most residents are taking matters into their own hands, tired of waiting for help.
"I think we're doing most of it ourselves. Not from the outside," she said. "We built these dunes ourselves with our own people, our own manpower."
The serene day looked nothing like it did one year ago, when in just hours, 355 homes here were destroyed, pulled underwater or ripped into pieces by the storm surge.
"Our home was hit by the wave and washed off its foundation," said Phil Gilson, a Breezy Point resident.
Then, an inferno sparked by an electric short swept through what was left of Breezy Point, burning down 135 of the mostly wood bungalows.
Just across the way from Tuesday's volunteer efforts were empty plots of sand where homes use to be.
"What we had here was a big long flat beach, no grass, no dunes at all," said Mary-Ellen Kiernan, a Breezy Point resident. "And on the night of the storm, when the ocean picked itself up and came in, if you look across here, where you see all these homes are missing, the ocean came in almost like a big machine and pushed those homes in further inland."
The empty lots are a reality that's too tough for some residents to bear.
"I've given up going over to where our house was because that's so depressing to stand here and see our house is gone, this house is gone," Gilson said.
People here say they have a 10-year permit with the state to continue building more dunes, and they say they will, even if it's with their own hands.