Paddy Nee, a native of Louisburgh, Co. Mayo who came to the U.S. nearly 60 years ago, refused to evacuate his neat little two story home on Beach 123 with shamrocks next to the street number. He stood his ground on the terrifying night of October 29 when Sandy landed, and he’s still very much standing to this day.
“When I met you last year I told you I was sorry I didn’t evacuate,” Nee told the Irish Voice while waiting for the Rockaway Rising event to begin.
“And I’m still sorry. But I’m still here,” he said in a brogue that sounds as if he left Mayo yesterday.
Accompanied by his daughter Mary Nee, who lives only steps away in an oceanfront condo on the ocean, Nee reflected on the year that was.
“Well, there’s been lots of building and lots of good, but people are still suffering very badly,” he said.
“There’s a lot of depression around the place. People lost everything.”
The Irish government through its two Irish Days of Action at the end of 2012 brought much needed physical and moral support to the Rockaways and Breezy Point. Hundreds of volunteers took part in the clean-up effort, and residents haven’t forgotten those helping hands.
“They had their Irish t-shirts on and they were wonderful to us,” Nee recalled.
Agencies receiving low marks from locals include FEMA and the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“FEMA forgot about us. That’s a fact. So did Bloomberg,” Corcoran said.
Noreen Ellis, a native of Co. Limerick who is active in many Rockaway civic societies, is upset that so many of her neighbors had to dip into their pensions and college funds to pay for home repairs.
“It’s been very frustrating for us,” said Ellis, who lives steps away from the ocean. “The middle class people around here were forgotten about.”
Over in nearby Breezy Point, which was overcome not only by Sandy but by wildfires that burned several homes to the ground, residents took advantage of the Sunday autumn sunshine to continue exterior work on their residences. Some homeowners were decorating for Halloween; others were painting and doing maintenance work.
There’s no question that the rebuilding in Breezy has been impressive. Many of the quaint beachside cottages boast new decks, fences, siding and fresh coats of paint.
But equally true is that there is still a long way to go to make Breezy whole again. There are a large number of homes that haven’t been touched since the storm. Many of them have been condemned by the city, and the future remains uncertain.
Tim O’Regan, a Breezy Point resident and member of AOH Division 7 in Manhattan, says the natural beauty of his community could never be taken by Sandy or any other disaster.
“The sun is shining. Everything is peaceful. The view is beautiful,” said O’Regan while enjoying an afternoon walk along Oceanside Avenue.
“This is paradise no matter what. And there’s no better place to live.”