Resiliency and Rebirth

It’s hard to believe ten years have passed since Hurricane Sandy tore through NYC and pummeled our beloved beach town.

Like most residents, I didn’t evacuate and was not expecting the storm to be much of anything.  In fact, it was kind of exciting that we were getting a storm. Like many locals, I love going up to the boardwalk to witness the fury of mother nature firsthand. I always remember my dad telling me about Hurricane Donna in 1960 when Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean met, and Rockaway was under water. I was eager to go up to the boardwalk and remember going up there during the Nor’easter in the early ‘90s that caused flooding across the peninsula. However, this time it felt much different.

Throughout the night, flood water inundated the peninsula and there was no electricity. The next morning, I headed out to survey the damage and check on family and friends. When I got up to the ocean, I was in disbelief that the wooden boardwalk was no more. It was completely destroyed, thrown about the neighborhood like little toothpicks. The devastation was far greater than any of us could have imagined. Not only was our community destroyed by flood waters, it was also ravaged by fires that destroyed blocks and blocks of homes. It all felt surreal, like watching a movie. Driving the neighborhood, you would see household goods, children’s toys, clothes, furniture and much more thrown into large piles in the trash waiting to be picked up by Sanitation. All those personal items can eventually be replaced. It’s the loss of life and the sentimental items and photos that cannot be.

There was no electricity for weeks, no supermarkets, homes and lives needed to be rebuilt. Although our town was devastated, as the saying goes “from the ashes arise anew.” There was new energy and money from the City of New York which rebuilt an amazing boardwalk and parks. But more importantly, there was the human spirit to rebuild by residents in the face of adversity. There has been great progress to make the Rockaways a better place for everyone. Before Hurricane Sandy we had limited food options, now there have been countless new restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, gyms and other establishments that help make our neighborhoods a great place to live, work and play.

There is a new ferry service that connects our residents to Manhattan and tourists to the beach. There is still a lot of work to be done and it’s up to us to keep the pressure on to ensure that Rockaway gets what we deserve in terms of safe neighborhoods, economic opportunities, reliable transportation, quality health care services and schools. All the new places are wonderful to have but there have been some real symbolic improvements and changes in the Rockaways that show it’s going in the right direction. Some of them may be bittersweet and seem like a distant memory but it demonstrates how far we have come and that we are moving in the right direction in making progress.

Some of the most notable signs of improvement are the long-neglected movie theater on Beach 116th Street that has finally been razed and is going to make way for a new development. The Neponsit Nursing Home that has been left in disrepair for over 20 years is scheduled to be torn down and make way for a park. The forgotten Far Rockaway Shopping Center on Mott Ave is now a mixed-use development that is nearing completion. The Beach 59th St. Firehouse is now the (RISE) Rockaway Initiative for Sustainability and Equity. The Riis Park Bathhouse has new plans for a rebirth. The old Rockaway Courthouse, which had been abandoned for a half a century, has finally been remodeled and waiting to find its ideal use. After years of continued delays, the Rockaway YMCA finally became a reality.  But in my eyes, Rockaway’s biggest accomplishment must be The Rockaway Hotel. This new community focal point required an amazing vision along with a lot of hard work and private money to make it a reality. It has become an economic engine for the neighborhood and the best part is it was done by local residents who take great civic pride in the community.

Hurricane Sandy definitely helped bring a lot of attention and improvements to the neighborhood the last 10 years and I am looking forward to seeing what the next ten years brings.

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