SANDY One Year Later ...
A year has passed since Hurricane Sandy hit the community, changing the lives of many forever. There’s no doubt that Sandy was devastating. After all, she’s the reason that Rockaway no longer has a boardwalk. She’s the reason that hundreds of houses were completely destroyed by fire or severe flooding. She’s the reason some businesses are no longer in Rockaway. She’s responsible for the death of some. She caused people to get into long fights with FEMA and insurance companies as residents tried to find some help to get back on their feet. The thoughts of Sandy still resonate within residents a year later, leaving them with a sense of post-traumatic stress disorder and making residents feel uneasy every time meteorologists even mention the word “storm.”
“The silver lining is that there weren’t a lot of casualties,” Katy Bree Grey, general manager of the Bungalow Bar said. “You have to be happy over what didn’t happen and not dwell over what happened.” In desperate times, many tried their best to find the positive.
Sandy also brought out the best in people. In the initial days after the storm, grudges against neighbors disappeared. With everyone being in the same boat, it was a time to put differences aside. Neighbors became saviors for each other with many helping others in the community in any way they could, whether it be by sharing a generator or pump to take water out of basements, helping each other get gas, giving each other rides, sharing meals and more. In those first few days, Rockaway had no one but each other.
However outsiders soon acknowledged that Rockaway wasn’t going to be able to get through the tragedy without some help. Thousands of strangers came to the peninsula, bringing truck, car and even bike loads full of supplies over the next few weeks and months. Volunteers from Team Rubicon, Occupy Sandy, Mormon Helping Hands, and dozens of others were on the ground and in resident’s homes, helping them to get started on the mass clean-up. Residents started to realize that they weren’t alone in this tragedy.
Sandy brought things that Rockaway had been wanting for many years. For instance, Rockaway now has a ferry. The Rockaway Ferry to Manhattan was supposed to replace the downed A train until it came back. The A train came back at the beginning of the summer and Rockaway’s ferry is still floating on. While the ferry’s status is still up in the air and it’s only guaranteed to stick around until the end of January, mayoral candidates have claimed that they plan to keep it around. Even though it took a massive storm to prove its necessity, the City is now working towards giving the coastal community more protection than ever. With more sand added to the beaches, baffle walls and TrapBag dunes installed and plans to rebuild the boardwalk in mind, Rockaway is starting to get the protection it deserves.
Sandy also gave individuals their own silver linings. While Sandy left many displaced, some claim that the storm left them with better living situations. Resident Susanne Max gives credit to Sandy for allowing her to live with her boyfriend of 10 years. Both have children. “The idea of moving in together or getting married was something we both wanted but were afraid to jump into as blending families can be difficult and often destroy what you are trying to build,” Max said. After Max’s boyfriend’s apartment flooded downstairs and a slumlord bullied them out of their apartment building, Max and her boyfriend are now happily living together. “I have never been happier. We are really loving living together and are closer than ever,” Max said. “I can honestly say if not for Sandy, we'd still be living in separate apartments.”
While many are still remaining in the same living space, some credit Sandy for allowing them to make their place better than it was. Sean Jacobs bought a condo with his girlfriend just a few months before the storm. They were planning to renovate their kitchen and basement, but Sandy altered their plans slightly. While the plan to renovate the kitchen was put on the backburner, Jacobs says the basement is better than ever. “Thankfully through FEMA aid, rapid repairs, assistance of neighbors and volunteers and DIY skills, we managed to renovate our basement without much out-of-pocket expense,” he said. “Our basement is now far better than it was before and only cost us some stress and time.”
As a big historical event that was documented around the world, Sandy gave photographers the opportunity to help their neighbors and allow their careers to unexpectedly take off. Laura Deckelman says her house in Bayswater, Far Rockaway was spared by floodwater. Deckelman decided to use her time to help neighbors and friends document their damage for FEMA and insurance claims. She has also been documenting Rockaway every step of the way since the storm to show to progress and lack thereof. “This work is important because people living outside of the Rockaways need to see what is truly happening here,” she said. Deckelman’s photos have been used in documentaries, art exhibits and even The Wave and she hasn’t made a profit off them. Photographer Michael Schor’s career took off due to Sandy. As a landscape photographer, he documented the devastation of the storm. His photos were picked up by Reuters and were used by The Smithsonian, The New York Historical Society and art galleries in Long Island and at the RAA. “I wouldn't have wanted to make my photography career on a disaster but I was able to publicize what happened to us, get some press and eventually some help for the community,” Schor said.
Rockaway Park resident Lily Corcoran says the storm made her closer with her neighbors. “I met all of my neighbors and know everyone for blocks. When you lived in Rockaway before the storm, everyone kept to themselves and just gave an occasional wave. Now I know everyone’s name, their children and their stories of the storm.” She said through helping bring wagons full of supplies from St. Francis and the Yacht club to her elderly neighbors, she was able to get closer to those around her. “Now I have all these great people in my life. There isn’t a time I can walk my dog without stopping three to four times to say hello and see how people are. I love it.”
Some say Sandy gave them the push to learn something about themselves. James Neas, a recent college graduate, was displaced from his parent’s home by the storm, which gave him the opportunity to live with a cousin in Chelsea who inspired him to stay on his path to become an actor and writer. “It was during that time when I told myself that I was not going to move back home, that I was finally going to take the step forward and live on my own,” he said. He went on to live in an apartment in Astoria which gave him the opportunity to grow and become a paid actor and editor. “The opportunity to live outside of my previous comfort zone launched me toward a realization that I am not someone who is going to take on a career that I don't love,” Neas said. “Sandy may have destroyed and displaced many things and people, but I made sure to use it as a propulsion toward a self-actualized, successful, and mature me.”
Arverne resident Justin Durso said that Sandy taught him that he and other residents are stronger than they believed. “We survived, we made it. As awful as Sandy and her aftermath was, we endured and now we're here. Sandy proved to me that when faced with tremendous destruction it's possible to pick yourself up, do what must be done and come out of that experience a better, stronger person.”
Sandy will never be called a good thing, but it proved that even in the darkest times, the light still shines through. Rockaway’s progress and ability to continuously work towards recovery took great strength. “The storm reminded the community how awesome we are and how resilient we are and how important it is to keep that going,” Grey said. “It was all for a reason. Everything happened for a reason.”