2010-05-21 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Rockaway Needs Plans For Nashville-Like Flood
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

On May 1 the heavy rains began. Along with them came tornado warnings. But nobody could have predicted what came next as the rains continued and the waters rose. By May 3 the Cumberland River in Nashville crested at 52 feet and other waterways in surrounding counties were above flood level. In this disaster, homes and businesses were lost, possessions destroyed and most importantly lives were lost.

What happened in Nashville could very well be a wake-up call for the people of this peninsula. In 2007, Congressman Anthony Weiner said “Rockaway is the most densely populated barrier island in the world.” With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Jamaica Bay on the other, Rockaway is a prime target for a flood such as the one that hit Nashville earlier this month. What, you don’t think it can happen here? Have you ever heard of Hog Island?

According to ‘Old Rockaway, New York in Early Photographs’ Hog Island was a sandbar located off of Beach 17, 18, 19 and 20 Streets and fully developed with bathhouses, restaurants and pavilions. It was first washed over in 1870. There was an attempt at redevelopment in 1875 but the buildings disappeared after the storms of 1886 and 1889. The tides finally washed away what was left of the island in the 1920s.

While New York City’s Office of Emergency Management has made evacuation plans should a hurricane hit our area, plans need to be in place should the peninsula be the victim of a 100 Year Flood such as the one that hit down south earlier this month.

The OEM hurricane evacuation plan of Rockaway is based on receiving several days warning. As Joseph F. Bruno, OEM’s commissioner, told residents last month, when the order to evacuate is given it will be a sunny day.

“Obviously if we move quickly enough and early enough it will be easy enough to evacuate … but we would give information to people early on and we would ask them to heed that information,” Bruno said. “And if we say it’s time to go to family and friends, that’s what they should do. The time that it will not work well is if everyone does what you just said – stay there, and wait and wait until the very end when [bad] weather is now hitting us and then it becomes very difficult. Then it becomes very dangerous not only for them, but for our first responders who help out.”

But it’s that very scene that Bruno describes, needing to evacuate during bad weather, as the waters surrounding Rockaway rise to flood level stage, that residents will face.

If a rain such as the one that caused the floods in Tennessee, Kentucky and other areas occurs here, a plan to evacuate people from the onset of a hurricane will not do. Locals have to insist that the OEM begin working with them to devise a plan for those who live on the peninsula. In the meantime, small boats and other equipment must be at the disposal of the 101 and 100 Precincts and the local fire departments for water rescues. Metro in Nashville had 10 boats for rescues and performed 50 by the end of May 1. A Franklin, Tennessee fire chief did some fast thinking and sent some of his firefighters to a sports store to buy $3,200 worth of aluminum boats, oars and life vests. These are things that peninsula residents should demand are on hand now. Rockaway would be cut off from any help and would have to take care of itself. It must have the equipment needed to do the job here and not stored somewhere where it would be of no use.

Local organizations such as Ready Rockaway, the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, Rockaway East Merchants Association, Community Board 14 and concerned residents need to step up now and not wait for others to do our planning for us. In addition, our politicians must step up to the plate.

The people who live in Nashville and its surrounding areas didn’t expect the floods that devastated their lives, and neither will we.

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