Fighting Irish spirit emerges as the Rockaways stay strong and united after Hurricane Sandy
Rockaway's locals show strength in face of Sandy
That’s what it’s all about in the Rockaways – everyone knowing everyone else, sticking together through thick and thin. The sense of community is extremely strong, and the Irish are an integral part of what makes the area so vibrant and unique.
It’s a short walk from Beach 123rd Street along Rockaway Beach Boulevard to the local church and Catholic school, St. Francis de Sales. In the parking lot was a huge tent erected by the Irish construction firm Navillus. Inside people were eating meals and loading up on supplies, while outside volunteers were distributing warm clothing and blankets.
“We have to eat and get our things while it’s still bright because at night it can be scary because there are no lights,” said Nee.
Brendan Jones, a native of Co. Fermanagh, was at the Navillus tent having some lunch and talking to his neighbors. He left Ireland 42 years ago and loves the Rockaways, but much of his home was wrecked by the storm, as was the bar where he works, Roger’s Irish Tavern on Beach 116th Street.
“It’s pretty tough,” said Jones, clad in a green jacket emblazoned with an Irish harp and the words Rockaway Beach Irishtown.
Read more news on Hurricane Sandy here
Jones left his home and stayed with his brother during the storm. He was shocked to the core when he returned.
“I thought the worst,” he recalls. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like a bomb dropped.”
But like most everyone else in Rockaway on Sunday, his mood was jovial and upbeat.
“Oh, we’ll be okay,” he says with a smile on his face. “It’s going to take a lot of time, but we’ve got time. It’s hard now, very hard, but it will get better. We’ll make sure of it.”
The lines of people were especially long at St Francis de Sales school, where medical assistance was available for those in need. Volunteers were off-loading from trucks a huge amount of donated water which was being passed around as needed. The line was organized and people were clearly grateful of the help in their hours of need.
Heartbreaking is the only word to describe a walk along Beach 130th Street. Scores of houses are charred from wildfires, not to mention lifetimes of memories wiped away forever.
The only thing left of one home was the steps leading to the front door. A small doll in the likeness of a firefighter and a statue of the Blessed Virgin were placed at the entrance, a clear indication of just how devoted many Rockaway natives are to their religion and public service.
The Harbor Light Pub so popular with locals is gone too – but a shamrock-festooned flag from the RockawayIrish Boys Club still flies high atop the wreckage. “It’s been around a long time, that place,” says Nee, shaking his head.
The warmth of the Sunday sun allowed homeowners and volunteers to make inroads in the massive clean-up. Residents in shorts and t-shirts were busy bleaching their water-logged basements; people were also busy shoveling sand, sand and more sand. Volunteers were walking the streets asking locals where they were needed most.
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