A week has passed since Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Tri-State area and places like the Village of East Rockaway are still in dire need of aid. Instead of waiting for help that might not come, residents have begun community-based efforts to help those most in need.
“We have a situation where it’s just total devastation,” East Rockaway Mayor Francis Lenahan said.
East Rockaway Fire Department Chief Steven Torborg described a harrowing experience for both his volunteer firefighters and the citizens of the area. Torborg said more than 100 calls came in Monday night for EMS services. Most of them were water rescues in which East Rockaway firefighters waded through waist-deep water in attempts to free people from flooded homes. The storm is over, but related disasters are still raining down on the community.
“What we’ve been experiencing is a rash of house fires,” Torborg said. Salt water damage to electrical wiring in homes can cause short-circuiting, sparking and smoke once electricity is switched back on. Torborg said mold and contamination from fuel spills were other problems foreseen for residents.
Last week, many streets were littered with furniture, sofas and rugs that had been soaked with sewer-contaminated water. “It’s your life on the curb,” Torborg said.
Torborg and the rest of the East Rockaway Fire Department assisted with a clothing and food drive based at the fire station this past weekend. Longtime East Rockaway resident Elizabeth Daitz, an attorney, organized the event primarily on Facebook.
Daitz said the response from concerned neighbors was “immediate.” Even graduates from East Rockaway High School who lived in Suffolk County and other areas of the state had been coming in to pitch in and help the community.
“We’re managing,” Daitz said of the town’s efforts to help residents who had lost most of their homes. Daitz also coordinated drop offs on different streets so the supplies and food could be more accessible.
East Rockaway had experienced storm surges before. “These are people who’ve grown up with water,” Daitz said, but nothing could have prepared residents for the flood surges that Hurricane Sandy brought. Even parking lots assumed to be safe by the village and listed as safe areas for residents to leave cars were flooded, leading to a huge loss of property.
“The biggest problem that we have is sheltering,” Mayor Lenahan said. Flood-damaged cars prevented people from getting to the shelters in Nassau County.
“Half of these people here, fireman and volunteers, have already lost their homes. I don’t know how to put that in words,” Mayor Lenahan said.”[But] I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone.”
Lenahan said that the next step included reaching out to surrounding communities like Oceanside.