lutching a fish in its talons, the osprey perches atop a telephone pole high above rustling 6-foot-high wetland grasses, but the presence of our car slowly rolling through its dining room is clearly unwelcome. It takes off and flaps ahead to another spot as we advance down the potholed, puddled road; Lisa Bova-Hiatt, executive director of New York's Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, is showing me around what remains of the Oakwood Beach area of Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy walloped it nearly five years ago. She inches her car forward as we crane our necks, tracking the wildlife out the window. The osprey briefly claws its way into its seafood dinner before, exasperated by our approach, it flies away until it vanishes from view. Just a few years ago, the reeds and raptors competed for space with neat lawns belonging to the small houses lining Kissam Avenue. Now most of the homes are gone, and only the street itself and a few telephone poles adorned with black wires remain. A block over, I can see dozens of vacant lots and a scattering of abandoned houses waiting to be demolished. Down at the shoreline—reached through a short, steep wooded path beyond a berm at the end of the lane—the beach is lined with massive sandbags that form a temporary seawall several feet tall. The skyline of Coney Island rises hazily on the horizon. Thunder rumbles in the distance. A storm is coming, but luckily, not nearly as large as the one that swept through nearly five years ago. Then, Sandy created the environs that we see here today—not by washing away homes but by convincing a neighborhood of a few hundred people that it was time to move on. Usually, these kinds of changes follow a pattern. Natural disaster strikes, the government identifies vulnerable areas, and attempts to persuade residents to leave. The reverse happened here. The residents of Oakwood Beach wanted to make sure that no family would ever again have to endure what they went through.
- This story has been updated to reflect that HUD was the funding agency for the GOSR buyouts and acquisitions program. FEMA runs a similar Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.