2005-10-07 / Front Page

Gaska Rips City On Weather-Emergency Prep.

A Wave file photo from the December 11, 1992 Nor’easter shows a car submerged to its windows in front of PS 106 on Beach 35 Street.
A Wave file photo from the December 11, 1992 Nor’easter shows a car submerged to its windows in front of PS 106 on Beach 35 Street. A top Community Board representative, who says Rockaway is ill prepared for a weather-related emergency, is lacing into the Bloomberg administration in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Jonathan Gaska, CB14’s District Manager, criticized the Office of Emergency Management last week at a State Assembly hearing on weather-emergency preparedness. Gaska, the only member of a community board invited to give testimony, said he has serious doubts about OEM’s plan and chided the agency for not seeking enough community input.

“I read in the newspaper the other day that [OEM] has a good plan for us. And they might, but much like Richard Nixon’s mythical ‘secret plan’ to end the Vietnam War we have not seen it and more importantly, the residents nor their representatives who are the key stakeholders in this process have not played any significant part in the making of the plan.”

Gaska’s testimony to the Assembly committee came just days after he fired off a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other elected officials to reiterate the board’s request for Zodiac rafts with small outboard engines and dry-suits for at least three of Rockaway’s firehouses, backup electric generators for all of the peninsula’s police stationhouses and firehouses and sirens to warn people of severe weather.

Gaska said the peninsula has been waiting almost 15 years for emergency equipment that was requested after Rockaway suffered millions of dollars in damages during a Nor’easter in 1991.

“Certain parts of the Rockaways and Broad Channel were under 4-6 feet of water. On Beach 35 Street in the Edgemere neighborhood the ocean met the bay for the first time since the hurricane of 1944... Rescue vehicles could not pass so they were unable to get to homeowner’s in need,” Gaska recalled.

The Wave chronicled the ‘91 storm under the Page 1 headline, “Moon, Tides, Winds Combine to Flood Streets of Rockaway,” and a story in The Wave issue from just after the December 1992 Nor’easter says NYPD and FDNY commanders for southern Queens were requesting rubber boats to be kept in Rockaway for flood emergencies.

Gaska said past storms have made one thing “abundantly” clear. “City Government was not prepared. Rescue attempts were hampered due to the lack of proper equipment. Evacuation routes were not posted and many streets were impassable due to flooding,” said Gaska.

The only improvement, he said, is that the city installed Coastal Evacuation signs about five years ago.

The hearing was attended by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and chaired by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Democrat representing the 92 Assembly District. Brodsky recently criticized OEM’s evacuation plan because, he said, the agency failed to accurately estimate the number of evacuees the city would have, its plan is too reliant on mass transportation.

Pheffer said the next step is to review all of the testimony and then call another meeting in about a week or so.

OEM, which cosponsored a disaster preparedness meeting with the Red Cross at Beach Channel High School last month, did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

Brian Magoolaghan

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