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Interview with resident of Far Rockaway

Interview with Resident of the Rockaways 
Interview by [Brooklyn College student trainee]
2/26/2013

Q:        Okay so tell me a little bit about yourself and your life in the Rockaway.  How long have you lived here?

A:        I’ve grown up here all my life.  I actually — we moved from that building right there.

Q:        Oh, okay.

A:        So it was a wise move, as you can tell.

Q:        Yep.

A:        About a block.  Yeah, I went to grammar school here, middle school here. High school everyone leaves Rockaway because they don’t have good like high schools. But yeah, aside from that, I’ve grown up here all my life.

Q:        All right.  So tell me a little bit about your experience with Sandy, the night of and really the weeks that followed.

A:        All right.  Well the night of we didn’t think it was going to be that bad because we had gone through Irene more recently and they tried to evacuate Rockaway and nothing really happened.  It was —

Q:        But did they order you to evacuate over here?

A:        Sandy, yeah. But they did for Irene as well and nothing happened. So everyone was — kind of had the feeling like, oh, they’re going to tell us to evacuate again and nothing’s going to happen.  Well, it wasn’t the same story.  It wasn’t the same story at all.  The waves had to be at least 20 feet and didn’t even– it was just crazy, crazy stuff to watch, so —

Q:        Nothing you’ve ever seen before living on the beach your whole life?

A:        Yeah.  Like this, what you’re looking at right now, this used to be the boardwalk. This is all gone.  You see those pillars?

Q:        Um-hmm (yes).

A:        This right here, all along here is where the boardwalk used to be.  And that’s where, like, you grew up on the boardwalk.  You’d run on the boardwalk,  you’d go out. Rockaway’s a small community, so when you’re out on the boardwalk, you see everyone.  You’d go, I was running on the boards today and I saw so and so and talked to so and so, you see your cousins, you see your family, there’s people in Rockaway. Now as you can see, it’s completely gone and the only thing left are pillars.

Q:        So is there any of the boardwalk or it’s completely all gone down now?

A:        It’s all gone.  All the way up — it used to go all the way up to 126th and I think there’s a little bit left down on 96th Street, but aside from that like this — there used to be a huge — this used to be park, and then the sand didn’t start until after the boardwalk.

Q:        And now it’s just all sand?

A:        So now it’s about — about 30 to 40 feet of sand.

Q:        Wow.

A:        Yeah.

Q:        All right.  So what was it like really like?

A:        Have you ever read Cormac McCarthy, The Roads?

Q:        Yes.

A:        It was exactly like that.

Q:        So the ends of the world, post-apocalypse.

A:        Yeah, the ends of the world, post-apocalypse.  I was walking around with probably five layers of clothes because it was freezing.  I had a bowie knife on the side of my head, I swear, going up and down the stairs because there’s no elevator.  Apparently there were people in the stairways robbing people.

Q:        Really?

A:        So not only had you — you had to go up there completely pitch dark but you — I was carrying around a bowie knife.  It was like — I had everything in a backpack.  I had  food, like anything I had to take because  I was actually at one point living at my friend’s house. It was like farther up town because he’s the only house with a fireplace.

Q:        Wow.  So this entire area had no power, nothing?

A:        No power, nothing.  My building was the first one to get electricity back, and that was two and a half weeks. So two and a half weeks and then that’s not even hot water or heat. That was just electricity.  A week later we got hot water and heat.

Q:        Oh.

A:        Um, so yeah, when I say it was like The Roads, people walking around, everyone looked like me, dirty, like you would go to your friend’s house to go help clean up, like do what you can but — yeah, that was  all you could do.  And you had to be in your house before nightfall because there was a curfew.

Q:        Really?  Like they put like a curfew?

A:        Yeah, it was like — it was like martial law almost. There was army trucks rolling up.  This right here  — this just got light back probably two weeks ago.

Q:        This block?

A:        You see these poles?

Q:        Yep.

A:        These are all brand new poles because these were all gone and uprooted.  See along here?  All new poles, all new electricity like these were the lights that were in– it was all spotlights.

Q:        That’s crazy.

A:        Yeah, it was crazy.

Q:         So what would you say were the major problems that really arose in those weeks following Sandy?

A:        Um, it was more the cleanup than anything.  Because like, they, what-you-call it.  There was nothing you could really do because when you don’t have heat or electricity like — like you got to go back and you want to shower and all that stuff — showering was the worst part. Because you couldn’t.

Q:        What would you do?

A:        I would — I would stay in Rockaway for two days and then I would drive all the way to Lynbrook to stay with Tom. And I’d stay at his house for a night, shower, clean, eat and then come and stay another two days.  So I’d do two days on two day off.  I know people that were doing four or five days on, going back without showering, without doing anything.

Q:        Do you know of anyone who didn’t have anywhere to go that was kind of stuck in the Rockaway or for the most part people were able to go somewhere for a day?

A:        Rockaway was good because Rockaway is an Irish community.  So everyone has 19 cousins, thank God. But Far Rockaway down here  was terrible.  People  were freaking out, didn’t have anywhere to go.  They had to–they were saying there was — they had FEMA shelters but  they weren’t good. A lot of hotels actually like stepped up and volunteered rooms, which was more or less where everyone was staying.  My uncle’s still — I think he’s still living in one of those because his house is so messed up now.

Q:        So you definitely say that it — so hotel’s stepping up —

A:        It was huge, yeah. Everyone — Red Cross came, I want to say after three and a half weeks was the first time we saw them.  And they knocked on my door, they gave us power bars, a blanket and a bottle of water. That was it.  I think the quickest reaction I saw had to be — I forget — it was — it was more or less people volunteering and donating. Like, if you needed stuff to clean you had to go to either there — a bunch of hipsters actually were actually running a little shelter down here on 90 — 96th Street — and then Saint Francis de Sales they had so much stuff packed in there just from people coming down and bringing — people were sending trucks from like Virginia– a huge outpouring of donations which was amazing.

Q:        Yeah.

A:        A lot of people from school were calling me like, oh if you need anywhere to stay.  It was more or less people out of their  kindness of their heart giving what they could.  Which was really awesome.

Q:        And then, out of the problems that you experienced right after Sandy, how many of them would you say, like, are still today?  What issues are you still facing today from the storm?

A:        Still?

Q:        Yeah.

A:        Um, well obviously this is not fun to look at — it was voted one of the best beaches before Sandy.  A lot of my friends are still living in Brooklyn.  A lot of my brother’s friends are still living in Brooklyn.  My family — I stayed because I’m done with school obviously but my brother and my family relocated to Florida for a month and a half, I think, so he had to switch schools in his sophomore year of high school which is terrible. The Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day it’s going to be the first time everyone’s really back.  A lot of people —

Q:        So you’re sure that’s going to be a good time?

A:        — oh, it’s going to be awesome.  Uh, a lot of the businesses still aren’t opened.  AThere’s a bar over here Connelly’s. I know, I’m complaining about a bar.  But– but it’s — it’s like a staple of Rockaway, you know? That’s where you go. It was like the best bar ever.  And it was a basement bar so it got totaled. And then a lot of my friends’ houses still don’t have walls and the — like in their whole apartment — like their living room it’s all just…

Q:        So I’m assuming they’re the ones who are like living in Brooklyn now and stuff with other people?

A:        — no, no.  No, they’re living at home.

Q:        Wow.

A:        A lot of them are living without walls and just hope — just doing work on their houses, trying to get back to normal.  One of my friends who’s having like a Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day party, she — she out a sent  a text — no walls, no rules.

Q:        So making light of the situation?

A:        So she — yeah, oh,  that’s the one thing about Rockaway.  Everyone was saying it could have been worse but, I mean, how many people say that?  You got people who lost their homes, there’s a whole block on 130th — I should have took you there first — one of my best friends from growing up, the house is gone.  It’s — lit up on fire and the whole block is gone.  Breezy Point, there was 120 houses burned down.  No one knows that.  On 130th Street, there’s a whole block of houses that are gone.  This, uh, what-you-call it, uh, Bell Har — uh, Harbor Light — it’s one of the — I had my communion party there, everyone  goes there for family dinners. Burned to the ground, completely gone — toast.

Q:        So is there like any one specific event or even more than one event that really sticks in your mind from Sandy?  Like anything you saw or experienced that just like, stays with you?

A:        I think just walking the — the whole — the whole walking, because you couldn’t get anywhere because no one had cars –so I had to walk up to my friend’s house and walk down.  And just walking and seeing everybody like, just like, in the same situation .  Everybody had backpacks on like big, big backpacks, big jackets, everyone was saying, like doing what they could but, I mean, the sad part it’s — I think it was six hours, the sad part was just — just how exhausted everyone was. And it wasn’t like a desperate exhaustion, it was just like, uh, so much shit to do. But the positive — everyone came together, man.  Rockaway is a resilient old place.

Q:        I have a few questions about that coming up.  Everyone knows that the Rockaways are a very tight knit community.  So you feel differently about your community post-Sandy?

A:        I wouldn’t say different but I mean, it kind of like proves what everyone is saying because it was like all right, let’s go do so and so’s basement and then everyone go there, get that basement done.  And the next day, all right, what are we doing tomorrow?  All right, we’ll do so and so’s basement.  It was everyone trying to do what they can for everyone.

Q:        We kind of already talked about this but, who do you feel has a greater affect — the government or the community and the volunteers in  the like cleaning up then?

A:        Community and volunteers 100 percent.  Like, well here’s some — here’s one part of the fire –

Q:        Oh, wow.

A:        — this all — this is all businesses right here.

Q:        And see yeah, you didn’t even hear about, I mean you heard about the Breezy Point fires but you didn’t hear about down here. — This — they had one cut scene of it because everyone kept watching it.  They kept moving the same images before they kicked the — the what you call it — the news out. Yeah, so the whole house is gone there and then I’ll show you 130th.  I don’t know if we can even still go down there but, I’ll bring you over there either way.  But yeah, 100 percent community volunteers.  There were people — I was talking to a guy from Texas, Virginia, a lot of people, you know what was crazy?  A lot of people from Katrina, people from New Orleans, a lot of firemen were coming up and they were like we had a lot of fireman from the Rockaway come down, they’re like, we got to pay it forward. And they were coming up here.  They were helping redoing peoples’ basements, houses, drywall, it was like — it was — it was a crazy outpouring of — of like a lot of good volunteers — like people just being nice, you know?

Q:        Yeah.  So other than just community you had a lot of people from the outside?

A:        Yeah but one with community because that’s what got you through the first week.  First week was pitch black.  You couldn’t do any work because the whole peninsula was still dark.  So you were — you were basically making sure everyone was okay, doing what — what was absolutely necessary at first.  And then — then it was kind of hang out. I was staying at my friend’s house on 130th. He lives on a beach block. It never breached his first floor so it was — his basement was toast but he a fireplace so I would go up there because it was nice and toasty — go up there — we’d all meet there.  After a full day of work you’d crack open a beer and try to make the best of it.

Q:        Yeah, so I mean it was kind of like community during the day and then community relaxing at night?

A:        It was working as soon as the sun came up, and as soon as it went — as soon as the sun went down, you were at someone’s house and you were not only exhausted but you were like, all right, I want to go see my friends, you know?

Q:        Yeah.

A:        And most of the time it was that pace you were working on.

Q:        And so, do you feel that your needs were met post-Sandy like, if you needed food were you able to get it?  Like, do you feel people were — I’m trying to think of how to properly phrase this — like do you feel that everything you needed was supplied to you after the storm?

A:        Uh, me, personally yes just because I had access to it. I know a lot of people were looking for, uh — right, the next is Dillon’s house actually.

Q:        Really?

A:        Yeah.  That’s the Harbor Light. Yeah he actually bartended there. He was, uh, that’s– that’s his house.  These  locks — these are all houses.

Q:        And then what did Dillon do exactly?  Do you know?

A:        Dillon was on this block.

Q:        Um-hmm (yes).

A:        And he was pulling people out with his — he hopped out of his window and got on his surfboard and was pulling people out of their houses just to — just to save them.  Like him and this other guy they — they — they made some sort of like rope somehow and they were pulling people out of  burning houses. I heard he — he saved a bunch of people.  This actually right here, this is my best friend — one of my best friend’s houses, Michelle.  She’s living in North  Queens right now.

Q:        And then it burned —

A:        It completely burned.

Q:        — down to the ground?

A:        Completely burned to the ground.  The — most of — most of the only things that were left were — you see  the pillars?

Q:        Um-hmm (yes).

A:        That’s what were left.

Q:        Do they know what started these fires or?

A:        They’re — it could have been anything.  Because of the salt water makes everything flare up, especially electric so they said — and the wind pushed it right back.  And actually behind Dillon’s house, that’s where the airplane crashed in 2001, yeah.

Q:        Wow.

A:        This, yeah — this block — this block has seen its share of unfortunate events.

Q:        Man.  And Dillon can’t even get started on that? 

A:        Oh yeah, that’s a — that’s a whole another thing, it was.

Q:        Yeah.  All right, so when did you, if you did, begin to feel things starting to go back to normal?  Have you felt that or is still a little?

A:        I don’t want to say normal. I think — I think the kickoff for normal will be this Saturday for Rockaway’s St. Patrick’s Day.  There’s a lot of people I still haven’t seen, um, because in between living in — living — like living in between here and Lynbrook, my family coming back, I didn’t — everyone’s been busy.  Like everyone’s been working on the houses.  A lot of people aren’t — I think that people who did the best were the people who were still at school.  A lot of my friends they didn’t graduate on time and —

Q:        Really, because why?

A:        — no, they were just — they were just — they were miking out on it.

Q:        Oh, okay.  Okay, they were just there for a while.

A:        They were just there for a while.  They had a victory lap.  But, but yeah like I — I still haven’t seen them as much as I want to. My friend Pastina was one of the one’s who wasn’t living at home.  He was living in the city until probably a month ago, so like it’s — people are slowly coming back, but I think the real kick off will be the Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day.

Q:        Yeah, it’ll get everyone back at the community. Do you know of anyone who like had moved away, like somebody our age had like moved out and then came back to help with their family?

A:        I mean, I’m not going to say that’s the reason that I came back, but I had moved out.  I’m — I — I moved — I was living in Long Beach, which my house was also messed up but I moved back just to do what I could.

Q:        And do you know what like the extent of your damage done to your house in Long Beach?  What really happened there ?

A:        — the basement — the basement was toasted and when I say toasted I mean there was nine feet of water in it. The water and the electric and the pipes were all messed up and that was out of commission for about two and half months and my bar was gone so I had no source of income — so I was kind of just floating around doing what I could volunteer wise. I’m not going to say like I was out there like every day but, I was still trying to do what I could.

Q:        Yeah.

A:        But yeah I’m trying to think about anyone else.  A lot of people were coming home from school every weekend instead of  driving home from Philly, driving home from upstate just to work on the house.

Q:        So people came back because they had that like community?

A:        Oh yeah, they — they wanted to go check on their families like, there was a lot of kids my age that don’t have   brothers and sisters or had  just their mom that had to re-do their whole house.

Q:        So you — do you feel that the storm really brought the community together more?

A:        I wouldn’t say more.

Q:        Just because Rockaway is close but it definitely — it was a demonstration of how close knit Rockaway really is.

Q:        So it definitely — you’re saying that instead of breaking it apart through this disaster, it brought you together?

A:        Oh yeah there — this is like all right, all right, I’ll go and help you and we’ll help you, blah, blah.  Everyone has — everyone has like a Sandy story more or less. And it’s like oh what happened with you?  What happened and it’s like oh, so and so was at my house, like I went to go live with so and so.

Q:        So in terms of Sandy, do think that this was just like a natural disaster or do you feel like this could have been avoided in any way or at least to some extent the damage could have been avoided?

A:        I don’t want to say avoided.  I mean this is —

Q:        Not completely avoided but less what it is?

A:        –uh hold on I want to show you this.

Q:        Yeah.

A:        That’s still half a house, I don’t want to drive all the way up because there’s still debris on floor.

Q:        Oh wow, oh yeah and the water’s right here.

A:        But you see there used to be a beach wall here.  And instead of that –I’ll put a little light on it.

Q:        Oh wow.

A:        See what I mean?  And this whole line here is all the same.

Q:        So all these houses are flooded?

A:        All — all these houses — this — this — that went out to about where that pillar is. So the — all the houses along here are the same thing.

Q:        Wow.  So they all — just the waves?

A:        They — yeah, took it out.

Q:        Wow.

A:        Guess you got to be careful because there could be — is — a lot of people were popping their tires.

Q:        Yeah.  And so are they starting to rebuild over here or would you say these people are more just kind of selling their houses and moving other places?

A:        These houses are the — all the way on the beach houses?

Q:        Yeah like the ones that are really like destroyed?

A:        Are really destroyed?  A lot of them are moving.

Q:        Are they moving nearby or are most people you know are like moving to Florida and the like?

A:        Um, I would say move to Florida.  I know a lot of people from Breezy, they relocated to Brooklyn like, my friend Tara. She said like her whole block is almost all Breezy people now.

Q:        In Brooklyn?

A:        Yeah.  They just completely moved over to, I don’t remember what town it was, but where she was living, somewhere over there. But at almost — almost everyone went to Brooklyn or somewhere close enough.

Q:        So they kind of moved together you would say?

A:        I would, yeah, I know — I know Breezy did.  I know a bunch of Rockaway people who are living in Brooklyn.  It’s — they — they didn’t move far let’s put it that way. I know one of the cooks from the Harbor Light he — he moved to upstate, so there were a few people who moved away away but not — not — the town didn’t move away.

Q:        Yeah.

A:        Not even close.

Q:        Okay so, what do you think could be done if a storm like this were to happen again to prevent such damage? Like let me ask you this — if there was another hurricane warning which — and they told you to evacuate, would you evacuate this time?

A:        I’m not evacuating just because I have enough like I have a lot of stuff here. There’s definitely different ways I’d go about it like we lost my dad’s truck, in the storm because we — we could have parked it.  We parked my mom’s car on like a high point and her car was fine but my dad’s truck we parked right in front of the house because we figured it’s a truck, you know, and so it’s a Chevy Tahoe and that floated away. Like so I would move the trucks, move all that.  They were talking about how there wasn’t as much damage down by where Rockaway has jetties because not the whole beach has jetties, just farther down does and they didn’t see as much damage.  So I don’t know if  it’s anything to do with scientifically or, but everyone is calling for jetties now. The dunes they didn’t do, I mean they did stop a little bit but there’s only so much a dune can do.

Q:        Yeah.  So do you think that just kind of building barriers would stop the water?

A:        Yeah just a smarter way to go about it. I think everyone keeps on clearing for jetties would be a  big deterrent and from what I’ve seen, I think that’s right.  Like a lot of the places where those jetties — that was the one place the, uh, the boardwalk was still there.

Q:        All right.  So it definitely did prevent some damage to some extent.  Um, so like this whole situation, what was kind of light at the end of the tunnel?  Like you said you were like walking around like it was post apocalypse.  What kind of kept you going?

A:        Um, I hate to be  repetitive but, the community.  Just your friends like just trying to help your friends out, trying to get everything more or less back to normal like — this town is a lot of fun.  Like I — a lot of people dislike the place where they grew up.  I love this town.  I loved growing up here. A lot of people will l say the same thing.  Like, there’s not many people who speak ill of like going to Rockaway or –there’s people that come down here just in the summer and there are — they feel like this is home, you know? Like I could go down this block and name peoples’ houses and like not many people can still do that.

Q:        So is there just like anything you would like to add, any like story, you know, any sort of situation, anything I didn’t cover?

A:        Um, not that I can really think of.  Just that I want to emphasize like that mostly the whole outpouring of people was — what — an amazing thing to see.  Like it was not just only community but like people from all over coming down, people just, hey what can I do? Like  a lot of love was shown to Rockaway like when we — when we needed it.

Q:        Was there any like specific group of people that really stood out to you that came down and helped, like any large group?

A:        Um, notably like we  tend to make fun of Hipsters down here  because like in the past like three summers we’ve seen a lot more of them because they love Rockaway, I guess and we make fun of them, you know,  like oh, no Hipsters, get out of Rockaway and all that.

Q:        Yeah, I know Dillon was all about that.

A:        Yeah, and he had a tattoo it’s a “No Hipsters” tattoo. And  they were down here volunteering all over the place.  It was kind of like all right, like, I’ll give you a little credit, you know.  You’re not that bad, you could be worse.  But, I mean, I don’t know.  It — what — and I don’t mean to just point them out because there were so many groups of people that were down here like the — there was people from everywhere.  Like West Chester — anywhere near here and from all over the country like — I would have to say that was one of the most — things that stuck out the most.  Just people — just coming out trying to help. It was amazing.  It was like — for — for what we had just went through like –to see this many people like come out and like try to — listen I — I don’t have that much stuff but I can help you tear down drywall like — like how — how many people still see that, you know? It’s — it was great.  It was a beautiful thing to see.

Q:        Yeah.  So you would say that was kind of the biggest thing to you just this human decency really?  Just seeing  people come together?

A:        Like you — it was — it was amazing to see really.  Because I think that’s what stuck out the most.  That was definitely the high point or and the most thing that stuck out.  Not only just the community but people coming down.  It was  just people being nice. And you don’t — it was a genuine outpouring of it.  It wasn’t like I’m being nice for a handout.  It was like, no listen you need help.  And we don’t care how we’re going to do it, we’re just here to help.  It was — it was nice — it was a nice thing to see now.

Q:        So what do you see for the future of the Rockaways?  Do you feel like this really bonded them together if something like this were to happen again and you guys would just come out stronger?

A:        I would say we need another 100 year break before another storm like this because I’m not going to see I want to see another one.  But, Rockaway is coming back.  Rockaway — 100 percent it’s coming back.  You could see it.  I’ve seen it and — and since Sandy just — just people doing what they can like rebuilding but they’re — we ain’t going nowhere.   It’s — no one is leaving Rockaway.  We’re — we’re stubborn and Irish for the most part and we like this place.

Q:        All right, so.  Yep, I’m trying to figure out what other questions we have here.  So kind of like if a disaster is going to happen it might as well it — not that it’s good that it happens in a place like this but definitely your sense of community helps you to know?

A:        Oh yeah.  Like people — people had burned down houses and they were saying , oh it could be worse.  Do you know how many people would say that?

Q:        That’s amazing.

A:        When I was in Lynbrook I was watching the news and it had all those not — not singling out people from Long Island, no offense —

Q:        Nope, no offense taken.

A:        — but there was a bunch of people flipping out, oh we don’t have power blah, blah, blah—and these people didn’t have homes. And they were on the news saying, oh it could — it could be worse.  We could have — we could have lost someone.  These people just lost their homes, like completely gone and then there were people on the Long Island news they were just like– we can’t live like this without electricity.  Like you can’t live without a house, you know what I mean?  And these people are saying it could be worse.  Like I don’t — it kind of puts things in perspective. But, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just the town you grew up in, I don’t know.  Just resilience I guess.

Q:        All right.  Well thank you for doing this interview with me.  I really appreciate it.

A:        No problem.

Q:        And you definitely gave me some awesome insight and I wish I lived in Rockaway with you guys, you’re pretty awesome and —

[Tape off]

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