SANDY One Year Later ...
That was what NYPD Deputy
Inspector Kevin Maloney had to say looking back a year after Sandy.
Coming into the 101th Precinct in
Far Rockaway a year and a half ago, he served as its commander before, during and after the storm.
Before the first strong winds began to blow and tides began to rise, the 101st was a hive of activity.
Even as personnel worked to secure the boiler and stack sandbags around the Mott Avenue precinct, Maloney and his officers reached out across their command. “The weekend prior was about getting the word out (to residents). We were coordinating as much as possible.”
To that end, the precinct was in touch with New York City Housing Authority and other buildings to make sure high rise residents could make it out. The precinct encompasses four housing developments, six nursing homes housing senior citizens, and five health related facilities.
“We had buses to get people out,” Maloney recalled. “We also spoke to Nassau County- they border us on the east side of the command- to open our evacuation egress route on 878 (Nassau Expressway). We were in touch with the Parks Department to see what their needs were. We were also in touch St. John’s Hospital. We dealt with security and let them know we were here.”
On the west end of Rockaway, 29 year police veteran Deputy Inspector Scott Olexa, commander of the 100th Precinct, was preparing for the storm, and an expected exodus from the peninsula. “Having lived through Irene the year before, we were doing our best to secure the area in anticipation of people leaving.”
In the event of a mandatory evacuation order, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued ahead of the previous year’s hurricane, he said, “we (would be) concerned about making sure people’s property is safe. We are always concerned about unoccupied houses.”
“Irene was pretty amazing,” Olexa said, “It was the most people I have ever seen leaving anywhere. I estimate maybe around 90% left the Rockaways.”
But this year was different. Almost no one left. Then Sandy slammed into New York and changed everything.
“We were out watching. We had a good number of officers deployed throughout the peninsula,” Olexa recalled. “It got pretty interesting. I think I was one of the last people to go over the boardwalk in a car.”
“The water started to come down Cross Bay Boulevard toward the precinct. Within 15 minutes it was coming and not stopping.”
“We tried to get as much equipment onto the (Cross Bay) bridge, out of harm’s way. I ordered my officers who were still out in the field to find high ground.”
“There were 9-10 officers trapped near Waldbaum’s, riding out the storm.”
Within the 101st Precinct, Deputy Inspector Maloney described how officers at the precinct’s satellite command center on Beach 59th Street had to climb onto desks as the ocean water crashed in.
“The water was several feet high in there,” Maloney recalled. About 20 officers tried to make their way through rising water back to the precinct. During the storm both precincts responded as best as they could to calls from people all over the peninsula who were caught up by the storm and trapped.
“There were some rescues on Beach Channel Drive, by Beach 38th Street,” said Maloney. “Civilian vehicles, officers who were stranded. We got them out.”
He explained, “As soon as the water went down, we went out to check in on everyone who called and see that they were okay. Some we brought to emergency shelters. We transported people to emergency centers using city buses.”
Despite the damage to their Beach 59th Street outpost, the 101st Precinct itself came through pretty well. “Fortunately we did okay. We still had cellphone service. We had a generator that kicked in.”
At the 100th Precinct at Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 94th Street, the situation was different. “We were concerned because we were told a second high tide was coming,” Olexa noted. “We had lost the majority of our fleet and communications. We had no power and only whatever battery power we had in our radios and cellphones.” The police station itself was hit hard by the storm. “The rear half of the station house,” Olexa said, “which is lower than the rest of the building, had five or six feet of water.”
Soon though, they were able to mobilize and set up a temporary command in the parking lot across the street. “We were able to re-establish the precinct,” Olexa said.
The second day after the storm Olexa also stood with other civic leaders and elected officials in a packed storm drenched American Legion Hall in Broad Channel to let that island community know they were not alone.
Maloney and Olexa soon had their hands full with post-storm operations.
“There were still a lot of people still on the peninsula that didn’t evacuate,” Maloney recalled. “So just getting updated information to them was important. We worked with the Red Cross and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York to set up distribution of hot food, clothing, whatever people needed. We also directed volunteers that came in.”
“We had to deal with power outages. We had over a hundred light towers to light up key sections and intersections. Over 200 officers per tour were assigned to the precinct. We had officers citywide who were deployed here. Traffic enforcement sent 40 agents. Officers were involved every day in relief efforts. Every day we also had officers doing verticalsgoing up and down in buildings, making sure everyone was okay.”
“The toughest part for people was not knowing what was going on,” he said. The 101st’s officers let people know what was happening and also updated residents on where food, supplies, medical and other disaster aid would be.
At the 100th, “we worked with all of it,” Olexa said. The hundreds and then thousands of volunteers who poured in “would generally stop in at the precinct at the end of the bridge and we would direct them to Saint Francis de Sales and other emergency hubs.”
They also established their own impromptu relief center across the street. As Olexa put it, even “the precinct itself became a center.” NYPD officers also saw another need. The communities of the Rockaways and Broad Channel were cut off from transportation and the rest of the world. Olexa stated, “For a while there, there was nowhere to go.”
“We ourselves started our own NYPD shuttle with buses from the City, driven by NYPD officers. We ran day and night, getting people in and out to get medical care, clothing. We got as creative as we could.”
The NYPD also set up check points in Broad Channel and other points to stop any and all trucks removing any of the thousands of storm destroyed vehicles from the area. Police verified if they were indeed authorized to do so and arrested anyone illegally carting away cars to profitably sell as scrap.
Looking back Olexa now says of those post-storm days, “It was the police, the residents, everyone working together.” As it turned out, in January, 2013, Deputy Inspector Olexa was promoted to the NYPD Fleet Services Divison, and Captain Craig Adelman was tapped to take command of the 100th Precinct.
“The area was still affected,” he said, “including the station house.”
“The generator went out and the precinct had no power. Telephone service was out…It wasn’t just the precinct.”
Reflecting the shift in priorities as conditions on the ground moved from immediate disaster relief to long term security and recovery, he said. “There were a lot of abandoned and unused houses, all storm damaged.”
“We developed our own program in the precinct, the ‘House Watch’ program, and compiled a list of all the houses that were under construction or uninhabited.”
The program, which is still in operation nearly a year later, makes sure that officers regularly check in on those addresses and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.
As Adelman said at a 100th Precinct Council meeting in August, “We want to know if a contractor working at one job keeps wandering over to another house across the street.” Maloney noted that in the 101st Precinct “we did see a spike in burglaries after the hurricane, mostly at businesses. We saw some looting, especially on first floors where people had to leave.”
“We had problems with vacant houses that were being renovated. We made a bunch of arrests. We put our resources towards that.”
Adelman commented, “With so many residents displaced, we really lost a lot of eyes and ears in the community. That’s come back since then as people have moved back in.”
As the recovery progressed, both commanders faced new challenges with things like the reopening of the beach in May.
There was uncertainty, Adelman said, with “what sections, what concessions would be open. Where people would be allowed to go.” And “we didn’t have the boardwalk to patrol from,” he added.
All three commanders agreed that their officers went above and beyond when the Rockaway-Broad Channel community needed them most.
“Anytime assistance for volunteer efforts was need we were there for them.” Even the auxiliary, 40 officers strong, was out in force in the days, weeks and months after the storm.
In fact in May, Maloney, Olexa and Adelman, along with their officers and precincts, were honored for their outstanding work before, during and after Sandy. At ceremonies at each station house, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly acknowledged each of the commanders and presented special plaques on behalf of New York City and the NYPD. “It’s our way of saying thank you. Not just for the great work during Sandy, but for the outstanding work you do on a day-today basis to keep Rockaway safe,” said Kelly at the 101st Precinct’s ceremony. Looking back, Maloney noted, “I think as a precinct (the experience of Sandy) brought us close together. I think as a department it brought us closer to the community.”
“A lot of groups that didn’t have a lot of contact with the NYPD now know us.”
“This area has definitely come a long way since the time of the storm,” added Adelman. “You can still see the remnants, but is has come a long way.”
“It was a life defining experience,” Olexa said of the storm.
“I am in and out of the area fairly often,” he said. “I am nothing but thrilled to see how things have come along.”
A year after the storm, for the future of Rockaway he says, “I just want to wish everyone the best of luck with everything going forward.”