>> Five years since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East coast, killing 159 people and damaging over 650,000 homes, some residents in New York City's Staten Island have taken precautions and moved to higher ground. As part of a New York State voluntary Home Buyout Program started in 2013, these flood prone properties have been transformed into uninhabited buffer zones.
Staten Islanders, Frank and Mary Lettieri, called Oakwood Beach home for 27 years. But when Hurricane Sandy flooded a nearby beach, their basement filled with seawater. Reuters correspondent Peter Szekely.>> The idea behind the buyout is to not only put people into areas where they'll be safe, but to create a buffer zone that would protect the rest of the area.
The state takes care of it, they cut the grass, and it's returning to nature very slowly.>> Resisting at first, the Lettieris, like 80% of homeowners in this same neighborhood, accepted the state's buyout offer. Now, three years since selling, grass covers the land where their home once stood.
>> They do miss the area, it is where they spent 27 years. They raised five kids and it is often not that easy to look at a patch of land that used to be your house. A house that they not only lived in, but they added on to, they built it, so they put some sweat equity into it.
>> Using money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York has bought out 654 properties, mostly in Staten Island. But the state decided not to use its power of eminent domain to force out residents who decline buyout offers and can no longer accept them because the program has ended.
And with sea levels rising due to global warming, storms of the same magnitude as Sandy could become more common, which is why the Lettieris do not regret their decision of accepting the state's deal.