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Using the Lessons of Katrina to Rebuild Smarter After Disaster

Patricia Woskowiak will gladly tell you the worst thing that happened to her home after Hurricane Sandy hit Howard Beach, the waterfront neighborhood in Queens, New York, where she's lived for nearly four decades. It wasn't when the storm surge seeped into the home she shares with her husband, Joseph, damaging hardwood floors and creeping so far up the walls she had to start throwing things up the stairs. It wasn't when salt from the floodwaters that came three years ago seeped into the soil surrounding her 164th Avenue bungalow and bleached her trees, turning them golden-yellow from the salt.

No, the moments that really frustrated Woskowiak were the times that people offered her "help." It was when contractors came in "like the guys from the Chainsaw Massacre" and tore up the trim in her living room. When she had to have the sheetrock in her walls repaired for the third time. When it got so cold due to a broken heating system that she resorted to pouring herself a glass of wine, sitting in her car, and making phone calls at night from the front seat, where at least she could stay a little warmer. This was a home her father had fixed many times, a man so handy he could have "built a house that flew." She and her husband had received money from FEMA, but repeated experiences with bad contractors left them unable to finish repairs. But after she connected with Friends of Rockaway, a local affiliate of a New Orleans-based organization that applies the lessons of Hurricane Katrina recovery to post-disaster rebuilding efforts elsewhere, her home has benefited from the work of dozens of volunteers from around the country. She's even starting to discuss a ribbon-cutting ceremony later this month.

Changing the rebuilding process >>