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Some In Northeast Turn Down Chance To Sell Sandy-Damaged Homes


As Jim mentioned, memories of Hurricane Sandy are still fresh for people living in coastal New York, and now the governor wants to help some of them walk away from the coastline altogether. Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing to buy and demolish homes that were badly damaged by the storm. NPR's Joel Rose sent this story.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Fox Beach is a narrow sliver of neighborhood surrounded by sea and marsh on the southern shore of Staten Island. Before Sandy, there used to be a 6-foot pile of earth and rocks between the beach and the neighborhood, but not anymore.

JOSEPH TYRONE JR.: So you can see, you know, where you're standing here and where the neighborhood is that we're pretty much at sea level. So once the water goes over here, it just keeps going.

ROSE: Real estate investor Joseph Tyrone Jr.(ph) says that's what happened during Sandy when more than 9 feet of water flooded into the neighborhood, engulfing dozens of homes, including the two-storey shingle house that Joseph Monty(ph) has owned for more than 20 years.

JOSEPH MONTY: We found the house inundated with sewage, gasoline, all kinds of toxins.

ROSE: Monty and his neighbors have rebuilt after flooding from past storms, including a major nor'easter in 1992 and Hurricane Irene last year. They've endured routine summer fires in the marsh grasses that surround the neighborhood. But Monty says the damage from Sandy is just too much.

MONTY: There's no rebuilding here. Where do my future grandchildren - how do they play in this yard? Everything's contaminated. How do I know this house isn't going to collapse a year, a month, two years from now? I have no idea. I think everybody had enough. We've been beaten.

ROSE: And New York's governor has a plan to help. Here's Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address last month.

GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: There are some parcels that Mother Nature owns. She may only visit once every few years, but she owns the parcel. We want to run a program that will provide the funds to buy out those homeowners who don't want to rebuild and want to move on to higher ground, literally, and that would be smart.

ROSE: Cuomo's plan hasn't been officially released, but administration sources say the governor wants to use up to $400 million in federal funds allocated by Congress to buy and demolish homes in the flood zone that were substantially damaged by Sandy. The undeveloped land would form a buffer zone to protect other neighborhoods against future storms. Joseph Tyrone Jr. says that's what local residents have been hoping to hear.

JR.: They're done and they're hoping that the governor's on their side and saying, OK, that's enough, you know? And we're happy to take your homes because it's for the benefit of other people here on Staten Island.

ROSE: Tyrone leads a local committee that's trying to organize a buyout for residents of Fox Beach who've overwhelmingly told him they want to leave. But this pocket of Staten Island may be the exception. Across the region, homeowners and politicians chafed at the governor's suggestion that they abandon their long-time homes at the beach.

PATRICIA MUSICHART: When I heard about that, you know, first, I cringed because that's like someone, you know, taking away my home.

ROSE: Patricia Musichart(ph) lives in Long Beach, the historic beach town on Long Island. She says many of the two-storey homes in the neighborhood flooded during the storm, including hers. But if anything, she says, that experience brought the neighborhood closer together.

MUSICHART: We are too deeply rooted in the community. I think it's too beautiful a place for anyone to want to leave, especially after what we just went through.

ROSE: Long Beach suffered extensive damage to local businesses and even lost its beloved boardwalk. But locals like Paul Joseph(ph) say they won't let one storm chase them away.

PAUL JOSEPH: From what I hear, most people think this was the storm of the century. So I think people are doubtful that anything like this can happen again. You know, it's a defiant we'll rebuild and the city will be back on its feet and get the boardwalk up and running again.

ROSE: State officials say they're expecting only 10 to 15 percent of eligible homeowners to volunteer for a buyout. The number in Long Beach may be even lower than that. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.