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Looking back: Five years since Superstorm Sandy

Cecily Jaffe was living in a cottage on Harbor Road in Aquebogue, a mere 200 feet from Peconic Bay, when Superstorm Sandy hit on Oct. 29, 2012 — and struck hard.

She had renovated the old home gradually over several years since moving there in 1999, fixing up a bathroom, taking out a wall and redesigning her kitchen.

“And then Sandy came along and wiped it out,” she said.

Water flooded the house, damaging furniture, family photos, kitchen appliances and more. The destruction totaled $100,000, which was covered by her flood insurance. She rode out the storm with her son and daughter in Brooklyn, where a fallen tree smashed her car.

Ms. Jaffe, who owns Cecily’s Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck, stayed with friends and, with FEMA assistance, moved between different hotels, including the Sound View, until moving back in about six months later.

This past July, with two renovations under her belt and retirement and a mortgage on her mind, Ms. Jaffe moved out of her home of 18 years. After she’d gone back, she knew she wasn’t going to stay.

“I was very fond of the house,” she said. “It was just time to make a change.”

While the storm largely spared parts of the North Fork, especially compared to the devastation it caused in Long Beach, the Rockaways, the Jersey shore and other vulnerable coastal spots, it turned some locals’ lives upside down and gave others a wake-up call to be prepared for the next event.

Timeline: Superstorm Sandy from start to finish

In Riverhead, Sandy inundated downtown with flooding, split the Riverhead Raceway’s Indian statue in half and toppled the gazebo along the Peconic River.

In the months after the storm, some homeowners took it upon themselves to protect their homes against the next major weather event. In Flanders, a resident decided to raise her home without any FEMA assistance.

Shawn and Toni Hough, who live on Creek Road in Wading River, saw major erosion at their beachfront home on Long Island Sound. Dredging helped rebuild the shoreline there, but the couple decided to plant sea grass along their beach the next spring to bolster it against future erosion.

“With all these storms and nor’easters after Sandy, our dune held,” Mr. Hough said. “You could see the difference.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the town had emergency planning procedures in place before Sandy struck the area, such as an agreement whereby the Riverhead school district would provide transportation to evacuate mobile home communities. The town opened Riverhead High School as a shelter and ordered a mandatory evacuation of all low-lying areas.

“With Sandy, we really dodged a bullet,” Mr. Walter said. “We did not have the types of problems that other towns and municipalities had. We were very fortunate.”

However, he said that one lesson learned was that FEMA “was very difficult to deal with” and gave “misguided advice.” After that, he said, he preferred the town hire its own project coordinators in any similar event.

Looking back on the years since the storm, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the “single-biggest” lesson was to undertake restoration and rebuilding with a focus on resiliency.

“Sandy was a devastating weather event,” he said. “We had really just starting getting back to normal after Hurricane Irene.”

Traditionally, the response had been to rebuild structures in-kind, he said.

The problem with that is that as new storms hit, homes, bulkheads and infrastructure see the same damage over and over, in what FEMA calls “repetitive losses,” Mr. Russell said. Sandy changed that, he said, and FEMA ended up altering its approach to allow new designs based on updated engineering.

“Any storm always provides an opportunity for us to evaluate what went right and what went wrong during an event,” Mr. Russell said. “Emergency response efforts are always evolving and improving.”

That includes a local gas shortage that left the community and first responders running out of fuel, he said. But after the storm, the town built new gas pumps with larger holding tanks to be prepared for the future, he said.

Some local businesses and mainstays saw significant damage in Sandy’s wrath, including the former Galley Ho restaurant, now Case’s Place.

New Suffolk Waterfront Fund chair Patricia McIntyre recalled that the group had been in possession of the former Galley Ho for only two years when Sandy hit.

The building, which dates back to around 1900, was almost lost. The storm washed away its kitchen and a room with a fireplace.

“It looked pretty scary,” Ms. McIntyre said. “But it was good to be able to salvage it. It’s got history in town.”

The waterfront fund obtained a U.S. Small Business Administration loan, which allowed the bulkhead on the waterfront to be repaired and raised two feet to protect 1st Street from future flooding.

“People use to sandbag down there regularly — twice a year at least ” Ms. McIntrye said. The new bulkhead has helped keep waters back since then, she said. The fund also replaced docks and piers.

It took a year for Pepi’s restaurant in Southold to rebuild and reopen after the storm blew its deck into its dining room, owner Pepi Gibinska said.

“We are thankful that we can do it again and so far it has been very good,” Ms. Gibinska said. “Things happen for a reason, I guess. Life goes on and you have to rebuild and restart. You can’t give up things.”

She said it’s important to keep positive thoughts after a natural disaster, thinking of those who have been displaced by the devastating fires that recently spread through California’s wine country and hurricanes that hit the south.

“At least I have my home,” she said. “A business you can always relocate.”

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Photos: Before and after view of Pepi’s Restaurant on Old Main Road in Southold, which needed a year to rebuild after the 2012 storm. (Credit: The Suffolk Times)