Project Summary

words & photography by: Martha Molfetas

November 2017

Over the last year, we've interviewed people directly impacted by Hurricane or 'Superstorm' Sandy. Over these last twelve months, we've met with and heard from seven people, and with each story we've gained new insight into just how devastating Sandy was for so many. Our team went out and photographed many of the areas affected by Sandy, all included here. While Sandy struck the NYC-area on October 29th, 2012 - somehow many parts of the city remain in disrepair, or are still being rebuilt - five years later. New York and New Jersey were not alone, Sandy wove its way from the Caribbean to Canada, killing 147 in it's path - including 43 people in the NYC area alone.

This project aims to shine a light on the devastation Sandy caused and what has been done since to build coastal and climate resiliency and respond to the aftermath here in NYC. The photographs included here were taken on location from June to November 2017 - in order to best show how the city is doing, five years later. We went to Coney Island, and as far as Seaford, NY; and countless spots in-between. From Staten Island to Hoboken, Sandy left her mark on the NYC-area and beyond, forcing us all to reconsider just how prepared we are for hurricanes and storms, and what we can do to turn the tide on climate change.

While climate change cannot cause any particular storm or hurricane, climate impacts like sea level rise and ocean warming fuel storms, increase their strength, and create more intense storm surges. Real people are impacted by climate change and climate injustice. Cities like NYC will become increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise and intense storm surges. Among cities in the United States, NYC ranked first place for the most at risk from coastal flooding today, and with future anticipated sea level rise by 2050. All in all, Sandy can prove to be a turning point for the NYC-area; we can learn to respond to storms like this better, and we can learn how to build resiliency into future planning. These sorts of policies can save lives and prevent future devastation. Unfortunately, storms like Sandy will be a part of all our futures, rather than an outlier from our past.


Research brief

For more insight on the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and what the city is doing, five years later, you can download our short Research Brief below.




Hover your mouse over the image to see interview quotes and descriptions.

Hover your mouse over the image to see interview quotes and descriptions.


Meet our interviewees

Verna de la Mothe works at the Eugene Lang College at the New School for Liberal Arts. She was living in Hoboken, NJ when Sandy struck. She was on the third floor of her building when Sandy inundated her brownstone co-op. She watched as the water rushed in, and was stranded in Hoboken for two and a half weeks while the water slowly receded. One year later, she moved to Queens.

Elizabeth Murphy works in advertising and is a lifelong resident of Long Island, growing up on the water. Prior to Sandy, she never experienced any flooding event of that caliber in 30+ years of residing here. She has three boys, and was actually 37-weeks pregnant with her third son when Sandy struck. While her home is not on the water, it was still inundated by flooding, reaching 3-4 feet in her home. 

Stephen Serwin works at the New School and had a home out in Long Beach when Sandy made landfall. He and his husband rented the downstairs unit and lived upstairs. When Sandy was still miles from making landfall, water rushed in and they helped their tenants escape to higher ground.Their tenants lost everything. Soon after, they rebuilt and sold the property. 

Robert Kearns is an Analyst at NYU's School of Medicine. His entire family is from the Rockaways. When Sandy came, his parents home was devastated, along with the homes of most his family there. During the storm, he was in Queens and faced little direct damage from the storm, but after Sandy hit, he regularly went down to the Rockaways to help his family get supplies and fix damages.

Nicole Rodill is a trend forecaster and avid surfer who regularly surfs the waves off the Rockaways. After Sandy struck, Nicole and other fellow surfers decided to go out to the Rockaways and do what they could to aid the beach community they enjoyed so much. Nicole took supplies up large high-rises in the less-affluent areas of the Rockaways - making sure trapped families had vital supplies. 

Heather Gaw is the daughter of Anna Gaw. They are both from Staten Island. When Sandy hit, Heather was riding out the storm with her parents in Staten Island. During the storm, she ran downstairs to shut off the power to prevent a fire. While at the breaker box, water rushed into the basement. Heather had to grasp at floor joists and swim out of the basement. Heather is a lawyer in the city, and her mother is retired.


explore the places affected

Hover your mouse over the image to see interview quotes and descriptions.

Hover your mouse over the image to see interview quotes and descriptions.



Photos from our Interviewees

Our Interviewees, Elizabeth Murphy from Seaford, NY; and Stephen Serwin both gave us permissions to use these photos in our project. Here you can see the long road to recover, post Sandy. Also included here are some images from Queens, showing the stark difference in Sandy's impact from one area of NYC to the other.