- Posted October 26, 2013 by
Belle Harbor, New York
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Sandy: One Year On, One Community Changed
It was October 28, 2012 and I stood at the window of my second-floor apartment in Belle Harbor, NY, looking out at an increasingly fractious ocean. I‘d always marveled that this huge body of water, only 100 yards away, remained so obediently within its narrowly prescribed borders. That day, though, it was threatening to hit the beach like the Normandy invasion.
Earlier that afternoon I’d walked a mile down the beach to Riis Park. The windows of some houses along the water were crisscrossed with masking tape, some were covered with plywood, and there were people at the end of every block filling as many sandbags as they could carry. I filled a bag with clothes and headed for higher ground in the Bronx.
A couple of days later, when residents were allowed back over the Cross Bay Bridge, I returned home. I walked and biked around Belle Harbor, Neponsit, and Breezy Point, photographing one jaw-dropping scene after another. This week I returned to some of the sites I saw in those first two weeks and shot them again.
I don’t speak in the first person in most reports, but Sandy was personal. And while I was only minimally affected, the lives of an overwhelming majority of the peninsula’s residents were turned upside down, and for some it remains that way.
The stitched together photos I’ve uploaded are a microcosm of my Rockaway neighborhood today. Some show scenes that are little changed, some are back to normal, and a few reveal sites with new construction—a number that, encouragingly, is increasing all the time.
1) Breezy Point, NY: Circa 11/15/12--This is the section of Breezy Point, sometimes referred to as "The Wedge," where upwards of 125 homes were destroyed by fire. Other than removing the debris soon after the hurricane, this approximately five-square-block area was untouched until relatively recently. On the right we see it today, where a great amount of new construction has sprouted up in just the last two months.
Unlike the general sadness and disbelief I experienced at most of the sites I saw early on, Breezy Point was different. While walking over the charred remains of peoples' lives, I had the distinct feeling of treading on sacred ground. There was a solemnity I didn't experience elsewhere.
2) Neponsit, NY: 11/2/12--These were taken at approximately Beach 146th St. in the Rockaway neighborhood called Neponsit. Neponsit is the most upscale area of the Rockaways and butts up against the huge expanse of beach, Riis Park, which is managed by the National Park Service.
My thought when I got to this block was that if you simply glanced quickly at the six-foot piles of sand, you would think it was a snowdrift. You don't see six-foot piles of sand, so all you think is snowdrift.
3) Belle Harbor, NY: 11/2/12—This was a house in Belle Harbor right on the beach at approximately Beach 136th St. Sandy’s surge was so powerful that it took out most of the foundation of many beach homes. It’s been a year, but you can see that work on a new home has only just begun.
What struck me about this scene was the extent of the damage to a solid brick home. I was eight years old when Hurricane Donna hit Belle Harbor, and though everyone’s basement filled with water, as it did with Sandy, structural damage back then was slight. The power Sandy carried was much more awesome.
4) Belle Harbor, NY: 11/2/12—This is Beach 130th St., between Newport and Cronston Avenues in Belle Harbor. As with the more vast fire that occurred in Breezy Point, the one that destroyed about a dozen homes here was caused by sparks from downed electrical wires that were fanned by 90 MPH winds. Again, as elsewhere, new construction is growing at an increasing rate of late.
I thought, as I looked on this scene, where houses that were completely unscathed can be sitting 10 feet from ones that are burnt to the ground, just how fickle fate can be.
5) Belle Harbor, NY: 11/2/12—This home was luckier that most, possibly due to a low cement wall, topped by plexiglass panels that was between the pool and the beach. It was one of the first homes to affect repairs and looks pretty much good as new today.
This was another example of how fate left some homes reparable while many needed to be torn down.
6) This shows a view of the same section of Breezy Point as the first photo, but from the opposite side. I these standing on the porch of a home untouched by the fire.
You can see a little sidewalk in the shots and it is only the distance of this narrow strip of cement that allowed the homes on one side to be spared.
7) Rockaway Park, NY: 11/2/12—This is the spot where Beach 116th St. meets the boardwalk. It’s one block from the last stop on the A Train, which brings thousands of New York City beachgoers to the Rockaways every summer. You can see evidence of the destruction done to the boardwalk, which extended five miles along the peninsula.
The loss of the boardwalk, as much a part of Rockaway’s identity as the beach itself, shook the community probably more than any other single loss.
8) Belle Harbor, NY: 11/2/12—This shows more of the destruction suffered by homes right on the beach. I‘ve also included it to show the trap bags filled with sand and the ten-foot high cement seawall that was put in place over the summer.
It was very sad to see just how many homes on the beach were irreparably damaged by the storm—probably two out every three in the mile stretch between Beach 128th St. and Beach 149th St.
9) Breezy Point, NY: Circa 11/15/12—The destruction in Breezy Point could be seen beyond the charred five-block section of The Wedge and indeed it was painfully obvious throughout the community. Just as it occurred along the beach in Belle Harbor and Neponsit, Sandy’s surge destroyed homes here, especially those closest to the ocean. Many that were in ruins were only summer bungalows, which were moved completely off their cement pads and collapsed, leaving residents’ belongings strewn across the beach.
The destruction caused by the ocean was perhaps most surprising here in Breezy Point. Whereas the homes in Belle Harbor and Neponsit were a mere 100 yards from the water, those in Breezy Point were close to a half mile away.
10) Belle Harbor, NY: 11/2/12—This is Beach 129th St., between Rockaway Beach Blvd. and Newport Ave. in Belle Harbor. Unlike the fire just one block away, this area was fortunate in that only two homes here were destroyed. Again it was caused by sparks from downed electrical wires and wicked wind gusts.