The Far Rockaways are about an hour outside of Manhattan. A $2.75 metro swipe can get you to one of the closest beaches to the city, and that is what most people think about. If you head the opposite direction of the beach, you see a very different place.
Three years ago, Hurricane Sandy came through destroying the area. A lot of work has been done over the last couple of years to help rebuild, but unfortunately there are still people dealing with FEMA and insurance companies waiting to get their homes rebuilt.
On Thursday, I found myself back at the Rockaways for the second time with a work volunteer event. Working with Friends of Rockaways and The St. Bernard Project, my coworkers and I spent the day helping put up the drywall in a house; the owner has been displaced for three years.
As I got off the train, the neighborhood looked no different than other surrounding areas (rows of similar looking houses). But as I started heading towards the areas close to the water (but not at the beach), I began to notice the abandoned lots and overgrown weeds. When I turned onto the street of the house we were going to help rebuild, I noticed construction efforts around the road as well.
The woman whose house we are helping to rebuild has been there since the early 1990’s. When the hurricane came, she didn’t evacuate and watched as four feet of water flooded the first floor of her elevated house. The damage, because it didn’t destroy the entire structure of the home, has allowed the woman to live in the small second floor room.
We spent the day dry walling the house, completing two full rooms and helping this family stay on track to get the home completed by Christmas. While we were wrapping up, the risk management aspects of our jobs had us wondering… Was this area well equipped to handle Hurricane Joaquin if the New York area was in its path?
The volunteers were happy to report that as soon as Joaquin was a possibility, they witnessed better emergency preparedness than they would have expected. Flood logs on the beach and filled sand dunes were some of the efforts by the city to help withstand damage from a storm.
This volunteering opportunity in the Rockaways was a reminder of the long-lasting impacts of natural disasters, and how slow the rebuilding takes.