Oakwood Beach Returns to the Wild
At its peak, Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, spanned over 1,150 miles – roughly the driving distance between New York and Miami. As it began nearing the coastline, pouring down rain and rattling windows, schools closed, public transit shut down, and flood-zone residents evacuated their homes. The full force of the storm hit New York City on October 29, 2012, with winds gusting to 80 miles per hour.
Oakwood Beach, a low-lying hamlet on the south shore of Staten Island, was no match for the superstorm. By the time the winds and waters receded, leaving mud-filled homes in their wake, three residents were dead. Dozens more would be homeless for months.
During the year that followed, some residents chose to return and rebuild. But now, two years since the storm, the state is in the midst of implementing a buy-out program designed to convince all residents to leave their homes. Officials have closed on 276 buy-out sales in Oakwood Beach and two nearby towns, at a cost of $112 million; another 200 applications are pending.
In Oakwood Beach, once an oceanfront sanctuary for working class families, just a handful of stubborn holdouts remain. They live among empty lots and boarded windows; 47 neighborhood houses have already been demolished.
We visited Oakwood Beach around Sandy’s anniversary to talk to the remaining residents. They are surrounded: by nature, as animals and wetlands reclaim the land, and by government, as officials prepare for a world in which Oakwood Beach no longer exists. For now, the town sits in limbo.
Footage shot with DJI Phantom 2 and a GoPro Hero4 with a gimbal attachment.