Eye On Rockaway
You may have noticed a change in the name of this column, which was once called “East End Matters.” Long story short, after everything we have all gone through as a peninsula in the last month and a half, it occurred to me that the last thing we need to do is maintain the division of east and west ends in Rockaway. While those designations work for geographical identification purposes, it is not good for either community. From Far Rockaway to Breezy Point, any thought of such divisions should have washed away when the waters of the ocean and the bay receded after Sandy’s wrath. Sandy, was as advertised – a Frankenstorm, and we were all affected. Whether you are rich, poor, middle-class; whether you live in a million dollar home or a housing development we all felt the pain and devastation that Sandy left in her wake.
Who would have thought on the morning of October 29 that the following day we would be talking about all the changes that took place in a blink of an eye here in Rockaway? Six weeks ago this past Monday, Superstorm Sandy came ashore in New York. That evening, before 8 p.m., the waters of the Atlantic Ocean were already in the streets of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and 116 Street. It wasn’t too long after that the lights began to go out on the peninsula and didn’t start to come back on until 10 days later. For many, power still has not been restored.
Late the next day it was safe to venture outside. While there was flooding in Far Rockaway near the Beach 14 Street area the dunes and the rolling hill at the new Far Rockaway East Park did their jobs holding back water that could have made things even worse. The cars that were flooded in the Ocean Park Apartments parking lot on Beach 19 Street were just a few of the thousands of vehicles that were total losses from the storm. Trees were down. The Big House fire station on Cornaga Avenue became an operations center as fire trucks, ambulances and the National Guard stood ready for any need. As the days progressed, relief centers sprung up and lines of area residents formed looking for food, clothing or even just dry ice. Councilman James Sanders Jr. and his Far Rockaway staff ran a huge relief effort – headed by his chief-of-staff Donovan Richards. Millions of dollars in supplies from across the country arrived daily. When there were overflows trucks were re-routed to other organizations. By the way, a thank you to Sanders’ relief center and the one at the Far Rockaway library. They were my connections for batteries to keep this photographer’s equipment working when my rechargable batteries were no longer of use. Without television, the Internet or newspapers (where were you Daily News, New York Post or even Newsday?) people had to rely on the radio and word of mouth for news.
People’s homes and lives were destroyed. Complete ruin. In addition gone, for many, were photos and family mementos. Beach 116 Street looked like a war zone after a fire burned down a row of storefronts on Rockaway Beach Boulevard from Beach 113 to 115 Street. I couldn’t help but think of district leader Lew Simon, whose new office was one of those storefronts destroyed. Soon after his Democratic Club moved in there, he showed me his collection of Mexican hats he had hanging on the wall. Those sombreros were given to him by various people over the years. According to reports a Papa John’s worker failed to turn off an oven before evacuating. To think that it could all still be standing there if not for that one action. The boardwalk on Beach 116 Street was broken up but it was still there, which is something that couldn’t be said for other areas on the peninsula. Sandy’s power ripped Rockaway’s iconic boardwalk apart like matchsticks. At least a third of the 91 blocks of boardwalk are either completely destroyed or in the words of the Daily News “severely crippled.” Sandy’s flood waters managed to temporarily close down The Wave newspaper, which had published uninterrupted for more than 100 years. The shock of seeing what became of my second home for a few days each week was unbelievable. But with the use of the Internet, stories were posted online and Twitter became a way to get out important news. Maybe not everyone could read it for themselves, but again word of mouth helped pass the information along. I am now a covert to the importance of such media as Twitter. While Wave management worked hard to get things up and running, editorial – that means you Howie and Nick – kept the information flowing.
There were some uplifting stories to come out of the disaster. Heroic rescues. Neighbor helping neighbor. At the corner of Beach 116 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard brothers Ruben and Zev Levavi handed out donuts and coffee as people stood by a generator waiting for their phones to recharge. A group of residents calling itself the Rockaway Rescue Alliance gave out food and clothing at Beach 59 Street and Beach Channel Drive. The two elected officials that were there from the beginning, at least from my view, both experienced damage to their homes by Sandy. In addition to Sanders, Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder was there for his constituents. For me, my advice is never to walk a dark street without at least a flashlight. Another long story short – still no power on the streets of Far Rockaway on November 13, walking across a very dark street, tip of boot hits curb equals broken wrist. Extreme OUCH! A big thank you to the Good Samaritan, whoever he was, that stopped to help call an ambulance. But for many it was much worse. There were lives lost, 111 homes in Breezy Point burnt to the ground, the fires and floods in the Beach 130s, the businesses that were a fabric of Rockaway that have not yet reopened, and may never reopen. This was all part of Sandy’s calling card. Things may not be the same as it was on October 28, but this is Rockaway and the people here will not be deterred. I really believe that together as one Rockaway we will rebuild.