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Wednesday July 29th, 2015 9:34AM

Sandy survivors mourn, celebrate on anniversary

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) -- There was much to mourn and much to celebrate on Tuesday as survivors of Superstorm Sandy reflected on the storm a year later.

Mothers sang "Happy Birthday" to their 1-year-old babies who were rescued from darkened hospitals at the height of the storm. Homeowners watched with awe as volunteers put their houses back together. Other survivors wondered when they would finally have some resolution to the challenges they still face.

Sandy made landfall Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore. In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city's subway and commuter rail tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.

The storm was blamed for at least 181 deaths in the U.S. - including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey - and property damages estimated at $65 billion.

Here is a look at the observances through a series of vignettes:

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A tear trickled down Edward Chaloupka's cheek as he looked out on Long Island's Great South Bay and reflected on the year since Sandy struck.

"I woke up with a nightmare last night," said the marine mechanic of Babylon, N.Y., who lost his job and home after the storm.

In the dream, Chaloupka saw boats drifting down the street. He said it has been difficult finding work as a marine mechanic because people are still fixing their homes.

"There's not a whole heck of a lot," he said. "You're fixing your house before a boat."

As for the future?

"I don't know," Chaloupka said. "I don't know what's going to happen."

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When Sandy darkened much of the city, some New Yorkers were only hours old. Others weren't even born.

On Tuesday, babies filled a Manhattan hospital room to celebrate their first birthdays - and their survival.

Kenneth Hulett III weighed only 2 pounds when emergency medical workers rushed him out of the New York Hospital intensive care unit and down the stairs while hooked up to an oxygen tank. His mother, Emily Blatt, says her faith carried her through as she, too, was evacuated on an orange sled.

That day, more than 40 babies were safety moved from the hospital to other facilities.

On Tuesday, their parents and hospital staff lighted candles atop cupcakes and sang, "Happy birthday, dear babies."

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At Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Manhattan, visitors were offered special pamphlets requesting donations to complete repairs on the electrical and heating systems. Photos showing the church in disarray after the storm are misleading, said secretary Diane Ricci.

"It was 10,000 times worse," she said.

Still, Ricci, who's lived in lower Manhattan her whole life, scoffed at the idea that New Yorkers should brace for a repeat of Sandy.

"You can't build a wall around Manhattan," she said. "This was once in a blue moon. ... It was the placement of the moon and the tides. That's it."

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Angela Morabito feels like she and her husband, Philip, have been on "one roller coaster ride after another" for the past year.

But she could finally see some progress Tuesday, as two dozen volunteers from Staten Island's Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the St. Bernard Project from New Orleans installed insulation and sheet rock in her gutted Midland Beach house on the southeastern shore of Staten Island.

Morabito is grateful for the free labor. She had flood and homeowners insurance but lost much of what she was paid to an unscrupulous contractor who abandoned the job.

"I feel like this is a start to something better," she said. "Finally, one of my prayers is answered. I'm going to have walls! I'm going to have floors to walk on!"

The couple hopes to be back in their home in another month.

---

Debbie Fortier, of Brick, N.J., drove to Seaside Park hoping to speak with Gov. Chris Christie, who was visiting several Sandy-ravaged towns. Walking out arm-in-arm with him after he finished speaking at the firehouse, she told Christie how her family's house had to be torn down and how her family has yet to receive any aid.

"We're physically, emotionally and spiritually just drained," she said after Christie left. "Does anybody hear us?"

She said she is on a waiting list "for everything" and is particularly bitter that her family started to repair their storm-damaged house, only to have inspectors later tell them it was too badly damaged to fix. They then had to knock it down and move into a friend's basement.

"How long am I supposed to wait?" she asked. "It's been a year. You can't just not move forward."

Yet Fortier said she takes Christie at his word that help is on the way - whenever that might be.
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