Thrust out into the wide expanse of marshland running from New Dorp to Great Kills Park in southeastern Staten Island, Kissam Avenue is a narrow isthmus of neighborhood connecting the Oakwood area with the beach.
Finding myself there by accident in 2011, I was immediately intrigued by the secluded quiet of the place and snapped a few pictures of ordinary homes at the edge of the marsh. Even then, though, it was clearly subject to storm flooding, with a couple of sunken lots in the process of reclamation by the reeds.
Since then the area has sustained two hurricanes. On both Kissam Avenue and in adjoining Fox Beach, similarly marsh surrounded, homes were swept away, submerged, and damaged beyond repair. Of the fourteen Sandy-related deaths on Staten Island, three occurred here.
The above photos juxtapose Kissam Avenue in 2011 with that of July 2013, eight months post-Sandy, along a few more of the current state of Kissam and Fox Beach. Today, much of area stands empty, a series of vacant lots and foundations, with over a third of homes on Kissam lost to the storm.
Though much of the destruction has been cleared away, there's been little of the rebuilding taking place in other Sandy-hit areas of New York. After experiencing the hurricane, and with the berm intended to shield the district from the ocean destroyed, most residents are instead awaiting a promised state buyout of Oakwood Beach homes at 100 percent of their pre-Sandy value, under a plan announced in February. Of the 183 qualifying homes in Fox Beach, 180 have already applied for buyout, possibly as soon as August.
Until then, residents must continue to pay mortgages on their absent or unlivable homes (many still standing have been deemed unsafe by official inspectors, their doors bearing ominous red signs), even while paying rent elsewhere.
Fox Beach 165, a local site devoted to news and advocacy for the buyout, has printed a series of moving letters from Fox Beach homeowners to Governor Cuomo beseeching the state to act soon. For areas like this one, recovery will not be a restoration of the pre-Sandy neighborhood, but an orderly retreat and return of the land to nature.
Nate Dorr is a photographer living in Brooklyn. Previously for Gothamist, he documented the storm-damaged dinosaurs of New Jersey.