'Sandy'-Whipped Rockaway -- One Year Later

I made several trips back into the devastation after that initial writing. The work never got easier. In fact it got much harder. Age on a man is often internal and aches and pains are the wrinkles.

Above, Cross Bay Blvd and a ship washed into the median. See more pictures below. Photos by Kevin Gleeson

One friend in particular deserves a mention here – a year later. Living in east Rockaway on the bay, his house was covered with ocean a

bove the first floor windows for a day. His initial consideration was to move. Pack it up. Get out. But having three dogs, he struggled with the idea of putting them up for adoption. The dogs were big dogs, and older. He knew with the glut of abandoned animals running the streets (homeless) after the storm – they would probably be put down. He was devastated.

It was actually through a mutual friend in Virginia that I learned of his plight.

Apparently, his house had been “red tagged” as unsafe for habitation but his garage was given a “yellow” temporary shelter rating. So our man moved in with his dogs for four months while he worked on his house. Through the winter of 2012, he would run the gas powered heater for an hour till they were all sweating and then shut it off till an hour till they were all freezing. Such love hath man for beast that he suffered such through the entire winter in the garage.

I made arrangements to come down on my “off day” with tools and help in any way possible. I had been helping others. My day job required my driving through the blackout into lower Manhattan and helping (in my graphic way) with making maps to connect New Yorkers by bus with the working subway lines (remember we had flooded tunnels)? I even had to test the emergency bus lines that were being created between Uptown and Brooklyn.

Manhattan, at 4:30 A.M., in a blackout defies explanation. As a born and bred New Yorker, to see no power below 23rd Street is ‘scary’. Flares. People

crossing intersections in the dark. No street lights controlling traffic. As you drive further south (back in time) the streets get smaller and curvier. By the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall area, parking becomes almost impossible. Impossible to see. Except the stars. Thousands of them. Over lower Manhattan. Never in my life had I seen the stars in Manhattan like this. Hundreds of cars with broken windows (from the flooding water pressure) and many with flapping plastic covering the doors. I worked on the 8th floor, but often was required on the 14th floor. With one elevator working on a generator for emergency use, I climbed more stairs in those powerless several weeks that I did in a lifetime. Far better than a gym. But I digress.

East Rockaway, near the water, after the storm, was a mess. Most of the homes were boarded up. Broken glass. Furniture and rubbish everywhere. Many homes were completely abandoned. Red Cross trucks were still delivering white plastic container meals to women pushing strollers with kids doubled-up in the seats. Occupy Wall Street bicycle crews brought food, blankets, and clothing. War zone like. When I got to our man’s house, I met the dogs and fell in love immediately. Big, beautiful, white, happy, playful creatures. I decided right then to work my Irish ass off to get them all back inside. He had a home full of steamfitters who were currently working with him on the Freedom Tower. I was quite surprised when he asked if I was “afraid of 

electric?”. Never taunt a Tipperary man.

1950’s BX cable, sharp, jagged, cold, cut and hung halfway from the ceiling to belt high is particularly rigid after having existed in an unheated, open space for months on end. Wires don’t want to bend, cut, or twist. Our man pointed me to a case of outlets, switches, and junction boxes and took off with the crew to purchase building materials. Alone, I wired the ground floor. When the vans arrived, we unloaded a ton weight of sheet rock, plywood, and insulation. Power, now been restored to the rooms, allowed us to see as the tools buzzed, ripped, drilled, cut, and slashed. In one day, we insulated, wall boarded, sub floored, and wired the entire ground floor. First in and last out that day, I went home with bloody, sore hands, arms and legs.

There were a few more construction parties, as there were all over the Rockaways and Long Island, and I got into my share of a few of them. In time, professional contactors made their way into the mess from all over the country, and as insurance and FEMA monies arrived, the scrappy “work crews” were replaced with certified men and women.

I need to finish by saying that one year later, many houses are still empty, torn down, or under repair.  I can tell you that three dogs and our man are comfortably resettled back into their home by the sea and that the work continues for many others.

New Yorkers are resilient, resourceful, and helpful. We often get mislabeled as snotty, mean, or rude. But in the mud, the cold, and the wind, I met many warm people who worked hard so that three dogs and their man could continue to make their home in the Rockaways. One year later, this work continues. KG

Sand everywhere three blocks from the beach at Rockaway130s.

The Army and the police near B116.

Friends on at a “work party” in front of some of our work and myself, smiling and covered with @#$%.

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Tags: East Rockaway, New York City, News, Rockaways, United States

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