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Every now and then, Frank and Mary Lettieri come back to visit what used to be their packed Staten Island neighborhood before Superstorm Sandy prompted New York state to let it go back to nature. The deadly storm, which swamped the New York metropolitan area five years ago and revealed its vulnerability, convinced state officials to offer to buy out homeowners in flood-prone areas, including the Lettieris' Oakwood Beach neighborhood.Sandy, a late-season hurricane, killed at least 159 people in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, including a father and son who drowned in the basement of their home next door to the Lettieris.Using money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York has spent $255 million to buy 654 properties, mostly in Staten Island, with 83 more in the pipeline, the Office of Storm Recovery said.Two residents of Staten Island's Oakwood Beach section who declined to sell are Gregory and Olga Epshteyn. Their two-story home is among 88 that the state failed to acquire out of the 402 in the neighborhood that were eligible.
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