2013-05-03 / Top Stories

Sandy Six Months Later: The View From Broad Channel

By Dan Guarino

(Note: Last week The Wave marked the sixth month anniversary of Hurricane Sandy with words and pictures which documented the before, during and after story of the storm. Here continues the story of Broad Channel, after Sandy.)

The Department of Sanitation came into the Channel early on the morning of October 30th, clearing away debris with large earthmovers and even larger dump trucks. This was vital as most houses had to be stripped down to their bare boards and all belongings and furniture thrown out. Mounds of household debris piled up on every street.

The Buddhist Worldwide Tzu Chi Foundation, the Mormons, Sikhs and other religious and non-religious groups from all over the country and all backgrounds came on their own to support the community, providing everything from food to clean out and repair labor to financial assistance.

Donations came in from all over. One Vermont pizza company sent hundreds of pies down by truck. Resorts World Casino and Russo’s on the Bay sent cooks and hot food. One Texas church, the Chapel Creek Fellowship from Fort Worth, set up shop with a truck with a completely stocked portable kitchen and cheerful, hardy volunteers.

One week after the storm, the PS 47 school building was opened for voting. Neighborhood Board of Elections workers sat in the cold building all day long to assist Broad Channelers who had come from all over to vote.

In the first few weeks residents also lined up on Cross Bay Boulevard for mail service provided out of small postal trucks. Each truck held the mail for one half of the town.

Within the first month FEMA, SBA, HUD and other agencies, slow in coming at first, set up an emergency center at the American Legion Hall. Bringing whatever documents they had left, residents met with representatives face to face.

South Shore LIJ brought in a mobile medical van to assist with vaccinations, such as for flu and tetanus, and checkups. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York went door to door to check on medical needs.

Meanwhile island residents continued to clean out and make repairs. Many stayed in their cold, barren unheated homes.

Others were not able to stay and even now Broad Channel has a sizeable displaced population. On two streets recently it was estimated that 40-60 percent of the residents are still not back home.

Often living arrangements have been temporary, and parents had to shuttle back and forth to work on their homes. Children were also displaced to different schools.

Due to the storm, families and especially Broad Channel’s children were not able to celebrate Halloween. Thanksgiving and Christmas were also difficult times for the community. Volunteer groups, even those including school children, did their best to provide holiday dinners and even Halloween candy.

The day after the storm, Broad Channel, a strongly self-reliant, independent community, started helping their own.

Homegrown, often internet based relief efforts began to take hold right away, using whatever tools were at hand. To date, Broad Channel Hurricane Sandy Relief, started by Stephanie Wagner on her laptop, alone has raised more than $14,000.

Broad Channelers also used the internet and whatever means possible to connect neighbors, check on friends and coordinate resources and volunteers in and out of the area.

Within the first weeks after Hurricane Sandy, the NYC Department of Buildings quickly inspected each home for structural integrity and tagged accordingly.

However, due to slow insurance and FEMA payments, uncertainty about home elevations and new flood insurance rates and the sheer enormity of the task, rebuilding the homes of Broad Channel has been slow going. The future for some homeowners and also renters is still uncertain.

Still, some work continues and slowly people are either moving back into their homes or beginning necessary work. Businesses are also reopening with great community support.

Broad Channel has also become a leader on issues that have come to light in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Notably the Broad Channel Civic Association was one of the first to bring attention to the potentially devastating effects of both the Biggert-Waters Act and the new FEMA Flood Advisory Elevations.

During several packed informational meetings at the Legion Hall, they have educated others and gone on record as opposing both items. That message has since reverberated through neighboring communities.

Civic leaders like Dan Mundy Jr. have been attending community meetings throughout the area, working with government agencies at all levels, been quoted in the local media and sought out for in-depth, reliable information.

The idea that reviving the health of Jamaica Bay might also mitigate future storms has also sprung from this environmentally conscious community. Major restoration projects, already underway before the storm, have taken on new importance.

Six months after Sandy, Broad Channel is still in the remaking. However, true to the spirit of this often independent, self-reliant community, even in the devastation, recovery and rebuilding there is a silver lining to be found.

As the announcer said to the hundreds assembled for the BCAC Little League opening day, “It (Sandy) changed our lives forever. But here in Broad Channel we took the worst part of our lives and turned it into something incredible!”

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