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Hurricane Sandy, one year on: Loss, destruction, resurgence

As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, there are many who still remain weathered by the storm.

The hurricane and post-tropical cyclone claimed at least 117 lives in the United States and 69 more in Canada and the Caribbean during its catastrophic assault on the East Coast in late October 2012.

For photographer Timothy Briner, it became increasingly clear that the aftermath of Sandy was just as much about salvation to the people who endured it as the storm itself.

New York City’s strong sense of community proved to be the key to its deliverance as evidenced by Briner’s photographic collection “Sandy,” offering a bare look at the storm’s impact.

Briner, who comes from a small town in Indiana, had his fair share of bad experiences growing up. “We had a lot of tornadoes, so I was always fascinated by weather,” he said.

He left home at 18 and moved to New York on October 29, 1999. Superstorm Sandy marked his 13-year anniversary in the Big Apple.

Briner worked on a project in 2007 titled “Boonville” in which he traveled across the country visiting six towns with the same name. His motivation behind this body of work? The search for community, he says.

“It was me sort of coming to terms with my youth. My work is really community based, and I think that’s what also came out of Sandy.”

“I was never planning on documenting the storm,” said Briner, who did not know Sandy was targeting the Northeast until the day before it hit. He was working on another project in Brooklyn, where he resides, when he found himself stuck right in the middle of it.

“My energy shifted immediately. I had this urge to go out there, and it all sort of worked, and I spent almost an entire year of my life there.”

Briner focused mostly on Coney Island, a popular residential beach in southwest Brooklyn. The pictures depict the devastation that tore apart the already impoverished neighborhood.

“A bunch of homes are right on the water there that were essentially just demolished and destroyed,” he said.

He returned to the site every day for 15 days, traveling by bicycle because of the shortage of gasoline following the storm.

While outsiders may view New York City as a place lacking an atmosphere of intimate community, Superstorm Sandy inspired just that, Briner said.

Residents of adjacent neighbors who had never met before were now dependent on each other for survival, some choosing to live together for weeks – even months – during the recovery.

“There were 30 or 40 people outside in front of one building,” Briner said. “They were charging their phone batteries on this generator for hours, just sort of building their own little community without realizing it.”

“They thought they couldn’t leave because their phones would get stolen, and they ended up all staying there and creating relationships with each other.”

Two women in particular, Marie and Kathy, who had not met prior to the storm, lived together for weeks, using Marie’s working stove as their only source of heat.

“We had a pretty interesting relationship right off the bat,” Briner said. “I’ve gone back to see them probably 15 times over this past year,” even reuniting on Christmas.

Both Marie and Kathy have since returned to live in their reconstructed apartments, but others in the area are not as lucky.

“There are still abandoned buildings,” Briner said, “The beach is still a mess at this point. There are still fences up all over.”

Even so, the sense of community that was born in this wreckage has not escaped Briner, who returns every few weeks.

“It was not quite on the same level as September 11, but still, there were trickles of that sense of coming together and lending a helping hand, regardless of who the person was.”

- Rande Iaboni, CNN