Little Known Parts of City Dominate Tragic News
Aside from Lower Manhattan, reports of the most damaging and deadly Hurricane Sandy devastation come from tight-knit communities in New York City that few outsiders are familiar with, or can even place on a map. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported on where the Buildings Department has recommended 200 homes be razed, and mapped storm deaths. These figures sharpen our view of the storm’s impact, and show how deaths and structural damage occupy the same parts of the map.
Click Pins on Map for Information on Storm-Damaged Neighborhoods:
The Rockaways, Queens
Although articles on young beachgoers, surfers, food trucks and a new bus service in the Rockaways made news this summer, it would be safe to assume more New Yorkers have seen the Rockaways from an airplane approaching nearby John F. Kennedy airport than from the ground.
The narrow Rockaway peninsula holds distinct neighborhoods that stretch 11 sandy miles, but making the lead stories recently are the ravaged communities of Breezy Point, Belle Harbor and Broad Channel, in particular.
From Beach 221 Street in Breezy Point in the West to Beach 2nd Street in Far Rockaway in the East (Nassau County, Long Island at that point), communities lost members to drowning and houses to flooding and fires. In Breezy Point, flames engulfed 111 homes.
Tragedy also hit the Rockaways hard on 9/11, when many resident police officers and firefighters were killed in the line of duty. That dark day was followed quickly by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, on Nov. 12, 2001, in which five locals and 260 passengers and crew were killed in Belle Harbor.
Broad Channel, between Brooklyn and the Rockaways, is Jamaica Bay’s only inhabited island. A day before Sandy struck, the Historical Society of Broad Channel hosted a public viewing at the VFW Hall of its growing collection of artifacts, pictures, newspaper articles, and multimedia materials, and encouraged people to bring new items to add to the memories.
Reached by email, Chairperson Barbara Toborg described the effort to save the now water-damaged collection. “We are in the process of drying out what can be salvaged. Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach gave us a dining hall to dry most of our books. We worked with volunteers in Vetro Restaurant on Cross Bay Boulevard for five days. “
Both Howard Beach establishments were damaged by the storm and Toborg is continuing to dry wet items at her home.
The book “Broad Channel,” written by locals Dan and Liz Guarino in 2008, includes tales of the island’s racier days during Prohibition, when rumrunners docked here and thirsty folk traveled the distance for its speakeasies.
The island’s civic honors listed in the historical society’s timeline include this, from 1967: “District Attorney Tom Mackell presented award to Broad Channel as one of the most law abiding communities in Queens.”
For continuing news on local recovery developments in the Rockaways, see The Wave, Rockaway’s local paper since 1893. The Wave offices were totally destroyed but got power back on Nov. 16. It plans to open a new office on the second floor of the same Rockaway Beach building and hopes to go to print on Friday, Nov. 30.
Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn
Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, across Jamaica Bay from Breezy Point, Queens, is described as fishing village-like, where homes, some soon to be demolished, have been passed down through generations. The population is roughly 7,500.
No easy public transportation brings people to experience the village atmosphere here, but readers can get insider information on the community from www.gerritsenmemories.com. The neighborhood’s secluded setting was emphasized in a New York Times profile on Gerritsen Beach in 2002.
Because the neighborhood was classified as a Zone B area, it was not given evacuation orders for Hurricane Sandy. High tide during the storm’s dark hours of 6:30 – 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29, caused a surge of 5 to 8 feet, destroying homes and cars.
The Brooklyn Courier reported on Tuesday that residents felt even Consolidated Edison and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were utterly unaware of the community’s dire needs, many days after Sandy struck.
“Con Edison and the city had no presence in Gerritsen Beach before the meeting,” Robin Blanchfield told the Brooklyn Courier, referring to a meeting that took place on Nov. 8 at Resurrection Church, organized by the nonprofit Gerritsen Beach Cares.
On Nov. 18, Gerritsen Beach Cares advised that of the 200 buildings given red tags by the Department of Building inspectors, only a small number have a high risk of collapsing. There are 900 “tagged” properties in the neighborhood.
Staten Island Communities
Staten Island has a number of attractions worthy of a day trip, but most travelers from other boroughs venture no further than the St. George Terminal before it’s back to Manhattan on the next ferry joyride.
Among the worst sites of storm damage in Staten Island are the southeast-facing shore communities running south of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge — Midland Beach, South Beach, Oakwood Beach — which lost homes and residents to the flooding, as did Tottenville, which faces both the Atlantic Ocean and the Arthur Kill tidal straight at the island’s southern tip.
According to an article by The Staten Island Advance on Tuesday, a city official has said there are nearly 300 homes on Staten Island with red tags, which indicates strong concerns about structural safety, but those signs could be rolled back to yellow after a follow-up inspection.
Heart-wrenching stories also in the major media outlets included the deaths of three children in the storm: two brothers drowned in marsh wetlands in South Beach that seen on television, looked utterly foreign to an urban landscape; and an eighth-grade girl was killed in what should have been the safety of her own home, which was ripped away by flood waters in Tottenville.
A father and adult son who perished in the storm were found in each others’ arms in their home’s basement on Fox Beach Avenue.