January 11th, 2013
06:12 PM ET

Last New York school left closed by Superstorm Sandy re-opens

By Rose Arce, CNN

(CNN) - The very last New York school closed because of damage from Superstorm Sandy re-opened Friday, marking the end of a period that displaced 73,000 students.

The 1,100 students of Scholars' Academy walked into the building wearing blue T-shirts that said “Scholars' Strong” on the front and “Rockaway Resilient” on the back. The Rockaway Peninsula school is surrounded by water from the ocean and bay and located near a sewage treatment plant. Water from all three met on October 29 as the storm engulfed the school's first floor, leaving it unusable.

Many  students suffered significant damage to their homes and continue to live in temporary housing. Even the school's principal, Brian O’Connell, lives in a hotel provided by FEMA.

“The way you get through this is to look at the positives of it,” O'Connell said. “You can say, 'Isn’t this an adventure to look at the opportunity to be with my family in one room spending time together…we gained a deeper closeness.'

“Through commitment to collaboration, hard work, organization and communication, our school community rallied to quell the ripples of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath for our students."


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Filed under: At Home • Hurricane Sandy
December 11th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

7 years to build school, 15 minutes for storm to wreck it

This is the second in a two-part series about recovery from Superstorm Sandy. Today's story follows one school, Scholars' Academy, as it struggles to reopen. Yesterday's story told the story of one student, Scholars' eighth-grader Ryan Panetta, as his family rebuilds after the storm.

By Rose Arce, CNN

New York (CNN) - Brian O'Connell remembers the plays in the big auditorium at Scholars' Academy, the workout room outfitted by parents, the rows of computers, the winning teams, the honor society.

“We had pretty much 100% of the kids going to college last year,” said O’Connell, the tall, fresh-faced principal of the school. “We had teams playing competitively around the city, an orchestra, plays on a top-notch stage.”

The night Superstorm Sandy pelted New York, it took 15 minutes to lose it all.

“I look at the videos and I can’t believe how quickly the water rose,” O’Connell said early this month as he watched surveillance footage from the storm.

The water flowed from the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay, tainted by overflow from a nearby sewage treatment plant. The video shows water rising as if released from a spigot, sweeping through the front of the school, climbing up the front stairs and pouring into the basement boiler.

“The next time I got in there, my grand piano was floating,” O’Connell said.

Scholars’ Academy was one of 1,750 schools badly damaged by the storm, one of many still trying to clean up and rebuild weeks later. The nation’s largest school system was so wounded by the storm that it shut down for days. Even when schools reopened, 73,000 kids were displaced from their regular buildings. The district had lost 300 buses to water. Repairs moved quickly, but by early December, 5,400 children were still being bused to temporary schools.

Scholars’ Academy is one of 56 buildings that are so severely damaged they won’t reopen until next year. More than half the school’s students saw damage to their homes. All of them are now riding long hours to study in borrowed school spaces.


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Filed under: Hurricane Sandy
December 10th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Home destroyed, school flooded, but student never misses a day

This is the first in a two-part series about recovery from Superstorm Sandy. The first story follows one student as his family struggles to keep kids in class while trying to rebuild. The second story shows how one school, Scholars' Academy, is faring after the storm.

By Rose Arce, CNN

New York (CNN) - The sky is still dark when 13-year-old Ryan Panetta wakes in his temporary apartment beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. The one-bedroom loaner has just a queen-sized bed, a couch and a folding table; he shares it all with his parents and three siblings.

He has traveled a long way from his family's beachfront bungalow to this high-rise housing. After Superstorm Sandy, his house near the Rockaways in Queens  is just a shell. His new daily commute - from makeshift home to temporary school - can take up to two hours.

“I’m tired, really tired,” he said at 6 a.m. one day in early December, already awake for a half-hour.

“It’s pretty hard. It's just adjusting to the new school, the long commutes in the morning to get to school, waking up really early to get ready for school and rebuilding the house. It's tough,” he said, his eyes red from sleep and sadness. “The house is destroyed and every time I look in there, it's like, ‘Wow. I never thought a storm could do that much.'”

Weeks after Sandy hit, Ryan is one of many still living through the ongoing aftermath of the storm. He's one of 73,000 students initially displaced from their schools, one of about 5,400 still attending classes in borrowed spaces. His double loss - home and school - means his life is in upheaval.

“We lost so much. All our things, the stove I’ve cooked so many meals on, the home my children were born in, the kids’ toys, everything except, thank God, the most valuable thing in the world, our kids,” said Karen Panetta, Ryan’s mother. “We can rebuild everything else. And we will.”


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Filed under: At Home • Hurricane Sandy • Middle school
Football teams becomes Sandy clean-up crew
A truck drives through a neighborhood flooded by Hurricane Sandy in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.
November 9th, 2012
10:17 AM ET

Football teams becomes Sandy clean-up crew

Editor's note: Steve Politi is a sports columnist for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. He can be reached at spoliti@starledger.com or Twitter: @StevePoliti

By Steve Politi, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Football can't do much to help the devastated communities along the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy. But this is what residents in dozens of towns are discovering this month: Football players can.

From Union Beach to Seaside Heights, from Belmar to Bayville, local high school teams are aiding the recovery effort with supplies, with support, and sometimes, with strength.

That was the scene in Point Pleasant Beach last weekend. More than a dozen members of the town's undefeated high school team went door to door helping their neighbors. They carried out flood-ravaged debris to the curb, from couches to dressers to dining room furniture, and when they finished one house they would walk as a group to the next and start again.

"I said to the kids when I texted them (to organize the cleanup), the community has been so behind us, this is an opportunity for us, in a way, to say thank you," said John Wagner, the team's head coach.

Many of the players had done the same thing at their own homes earlier in the week. Others were displaced, living in hotels or shelters, not sure where their families would settle long-term.

This is the case up and down the Jersey Shore, the epicenter of the devastation from the unprecedented storm. The images on television days after, from the roller coaster from the Seaside boardwalk sitting in the ocean to the boats piled up like toys on the streets, do not begin to sum up the damage.

Read the full story

In Sandy, opportunities for science education
October 30th, 2012
04:27 PM ET

In Sandy, opportunities for science education

by Zaina Adamu, CNN

When Ted Turbiasz, 36, first heard about Hurricane Sandy, he gathered his two children in their backyard and put them to work. Collectively, they built a do-it-yourself weather station equipped with a rain gauge and wind indicator, and connected their home television to feed live video of the storm. They topped it off with a specially-made banner held on with green duct tape and labeling the unit as “Aidan’s Sandy Weather Station.”

The purpose of it all was to “teach them that weather is something that can be monitored," Turbiasz told CNN's iReport.

With more advanced technology and resources, forecasters are doing the same. They predicted the magnitude of Sandy with the help of satellite images from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder tracked the storm and captured a high-resolution photo that meteorologists used to determine the storm's size.

Other sophisticated technology helps predict life-threatening hurricanes, as well. Take for instance the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s supercomputer, Yellowstone, which is able to render short-term weather forecasts in less than 10 minutes and can compute 1.5 quadrillion (a million billion) mathematical operations a second, equivalent to 7 billion people performing more than 200,000 calculations every second.

Read the full story from our Light Years Blog
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Filed under: At Home • Hurricane Sandy • Science