2011-09-02 / Front Page

Irene, Good Night!

By Howard Schwach

On Saturday morning, when west end residents greeted each other, the question was not, “How are you doing today,” but “Are you leaving?”

The question referred to the evacuation order for the entire peninsula, due to Hurricane Irene, declared by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday and set for 5 p.m. on Saturday evening.

And, despite the fact that Bloomberg said at a Sunday afternoon press conference that 80 percent of the residents of Rockaway left to weather the storm elsewhere, an empirical poll by Wave staffers over the weekend showed that the numbers were probably closer to 40 percent evacuating with 60 percent hunkering down in their homes and apartments. In fact, a keen observer on Beach 129 Street watching a man push a supermarket cart filled with beer down Newport Avenue made the quintessential comment, calling the man and his cargo, “The real Rockaway evacuation plan.”

“We are selling more beer than bottled water,” said the owner of the small grocery store on the street. “And, we are selling a lot of water.”

Most of the stores in Rockaway quickly sold out of such storm-related supplies such as D batteries, flashlights, automatic pumps and tarps.

The line at Brown’s Hardware on Beach 116 Street went out the door and onto the street as people lined up for storm supplies.

The same was true of Rogoff’s Cards and Toys on the busy shopping street. When the store got a new supply of batteries in midmorning, they went so quickly that there was hardly time to get them out of the cartons.

One local said that she appreciated that the stores did not gouge customers, noting that they charged regular prices for the material, although generally speaking, they told customers that they would not allow returns on those purchases.

There were even people on the beach last Saturday afternoon, filling sandbags for their driveways.

The same was true in Far Rockaway and in stores along Central Avenue and in the nearby Five Towns, where stores were reportedly inundated with Rockaway customers.

At 1:40 p.m. on Saturday, before the rains actually came down, Congressman Gregory Meeks was on both television and radio, stating that 65 percent of Rockaway residents had fled the peninsula and that the ocean had already met the bay in a few places.

He declared the situation “very dangerous,” urging the remaining 35 percent to leave immediately.

Despite the fact that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) had city buses available to take residents to shelters, such as the one at John Adams High School, according to city officials, the majority of those who live in city housing decided to stay. That, despite the fact that the city announced that it would turn off the boilers and the elevators in all of its Rockaway buildings at 6 p.m. on Saturday night.

Both hospitals were evacuated as were numerous nursing and adult homes on the peninsula.

In at least one case, evacuees from a Far Rockaway nursing home had to sit for several hours in the school buses that brought them to a shelter until the shelter could do intake on them.

While most of the seniors were taken to like facilities in other parts of the city, many of the Rockaway evacuees went to John Adams High School in South Ozone Park.

Rockaway resident Bruce Jacobs worked at the high school throughout the night.

He said that while the food was “soso,” the experience was a good one.

“There were no showers, but we were only there for a day,” Jacobs said. The mayor’s office was there, FEMA, teachers from the Department of Education, and the National Guard. It went pretty smoothly. There were lots of Rockaway residents at the shelter, and there probably would have been more if the trains had run a little longer.

Many other city services were closed down for the weekend as well.

All city beaches were closed for the weekend on Friday, but surfers continued to hit the waves until late Saturday night. On Sunday morning, there was nobody in the water.

One surfer told The Wave that he was a surfer who liked to take chances, but that not even he would go in the water with waves that unpredictable.

At 9 p.m. on Saturday night both bridges to Rockaway were closed down and Route 878, which borders Rockaway and Nassau County, was made one way northbound to allow Long Beach and Atlantic Beach residents to evacuate their own barrier island.

It was a long, loud night for those west end residents who stayed in their homes and apartments.

Police officers roamed the streets, looking for looters and those in trouble. The peninsula was flooded with cops from all over the city due to the mayor’s evacuation order.

The peninsula was also flooded with water and downed trees.

While LIPA says that at the height of the storm there were 1,157 customers without electricity throughout the peninsula because of downed wires and flooded equipment, most of the peninsula did not lose its electric service during the storm.

The electric utility said that more than half of those homes without electricity were restored by Tuesday and the rest by the end of the week.

On Sunday morning, many residents woke to the sight of rivers of water running down their streets from the ocean’s storm surge.

That water quickly inundated basements and garages throughout the peninsula. Many east end homes, particularly those in the Beach 9 to Beach 35 Street areas, suffered the same fate.

At 9 a.m. on Sunday, Irene made landfall for the third time, this time over New York City as a tropical storm, with winds of 65 to 70 miles per hour.

Much of Gateway National Recreation Area was closed as water pushed through the Riis Park Bathhouse and left sand and rubble behind.

Much of Riis Park and Fort Tilden remain closed as this weekend nears.

With the rising tide at the same time as the storm surge, more homes were flooded and two homes in Broad Channel were unceremoniously dumped into Jamaica Bay.

Steve Madigan, the owner of one of the homes, told television reporters that his house “was just lifted off its pilings by the rising water and dumped into the bay.”

“I’m just glad nobody was killed,” Madigan said.

That seemed to be the favorite Rockaway saying on Sunday evening.

“It could have been a lot worse,” many locals echoed. “Most of the people stayed and nobody got killed.”

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