Spectre of second storm lends urgency to recovery efforts in devastated boroughs
As relief filters in slowly, residents battle cold and wait for the new arrival, writes INES NOVACICin New York
A cramped second-storey apartment, perfect for one, has been home to three generations of the Mead family since Sandy devastated their Rockaways neighbourhood one week ago.
They had refused to evacuate, despite their home being a three-minute walk from the bay; so when they squeezed into this Brooklyn flat, they were carrying suitcases full of any food that hadn’t been ruined, and plastic bags full of salvaged clothes and personal items.
“It’s a tiny living room and kitchen, plus a bedroom, and a bathroom that anyone bigger than me would have trouble squeezing into,” said Rob Meade, an Irish-American graphic artist who grew up in the Rockaways.
Meade is one of many locals who have opened their doors to displaced family members and friends. “It’s funny, when they came at first they brought the three cats with them, and my girlfriend had cooked so that we could all sit down together to something nice that first evening when they arrived,” he joked.
Almost every home in the heavily Irish Rockaways neighbourhood has been damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
The Red Cross and federal and state aid only began arriving on Sunday, and a sense of urgency underlines the scramble to begin rebuilding, as significant temperature drops were felt yesterday, in anticipation of a second so-called nor’easter storm forecast.
There’s still no electricity out there, no heat in homes, no one has a working car. “And it’s cold. Really cold,” said Meade.
His mother, brother, brother’s wife, and their 13-year-old son were living in the family home that was severely damaged in the storm. Floodwater submerged their basement and several feet spilled over into the first floor. Meade said that they, like many, felt that any hope of rebuilding was slowly slipping away, especially with a continuing storm saga.
“We still haven’t received anything from the government. They haven’t even sent someone to inspect the house to assess if its habitable, if the structure is sound.”
Apart from renewed threats of flooding, the nor’easter storm, which could hit coastal areas as early as dawn today, the cold is the biggest issue.
The Rockaways is a large community with a visible income gap between the uptown and downtown areas. Many elderly and poor people reside in high-rise housing projects that have thus far been overlooked by the relief effort.
“No one’s down there, in the projects housing. I saw the first National Guardsman when I went there again yesterday,” said Christel Astin, a Rockaways resident who lost her home in the storm. Over the past few days, she has been working with a citywide restaurant chain to distribute food to stranded residents.
“It was supposed to be a weekend thing, but then when we started hearing about the nor’easter we decided to run it all week long, and we’re focusing hot things like coffee, hot chocolate,” said Astin, adding that yesterday they gave out as many as 800 individual soups.
The spectre of another storm is forcing the community to catch up on relief efforts. A spokesman from the Red Cross said they were looking to increase the number of workers in areas close to the Rockaways, but exact figures were unavailable.
According to the National Weather Service, the nor’easter is “significant” and could bring wind gusts of up to 60mph, in turn causing more power outages and hampering recovery efforts.
This morning, Sheila Lynott, the president of the Irish Business Organisation of New York stood in front of a van with a 14-foot container filled with donated supplies such as “work gloves, winter hats and gloves” that the organisation had asked for on their Facebook page.
Lynott said they would stop off at nearby St Mary’s Church, where another 40 bags of donations were waiting, before driving out to distribute the supplies in the Rockaways.
“New rain will impact the sand out there big time,” she added. “It still looks terrible, like a war zone.”