As I sit here writing this piece on a beautiful Sunday morning, sunlight is streaming through my windows and all is calm. Later today I will take part in the Rockaway Rising event with my Irish drums and a bagpiper in the commemoration of what took place a year ago.
In a remarkable event several thousands of us will join hands across Rockaway Beach to remember all that happened and those we lost.
It has indeed been a year since that fateful four hour tempest named Sandy blasted my hometown here on the Rockaway Peninsula with a full broadside. Walking over to the window, I peer out upon a calm, silvery sea. God almighty, I thought, you were a far different kettle of fish last year.
Back then the raging sea and punishing wind had fractured my little corner of the earth. It had laid us low for a time but we are coming back.
For what would be the alternative to recovery but running away or lying down and embracing idleness?
No, I thought, we will never slack off, we will never do less than what is needed to make a full recovery. Sipping my coffee I allowed my mind’s eye to go to work as it carries me back to a time, one year ago.
The storm came with all its pounding fury. My car just up and floated out of its parking spot as though someone was driving it. The interior lights were on, the flashers were flashing and the horn was blowing, as it reversed into the newly directed ocean current which was now creating the traffic jam in front of my building on Shorefront Parkway and Beach103rd St.
All of the cars in the lot joined in, blowing their horns, flashing their lights and bumping into each other in some sort of perverse demolition derby, all save the higher end sort, whose windows automatically open when the car is immersed in water to prevent the occupants being trapped, they simply sank and stayed put.
The wind was hellacious as it ripped and tore through the fencing around the community pool. The irresistible phalanx of waves marched right across the landscape, filling the pool and smashing the plate glass windows of the lobby. The forty five mile per hour storm surge joined forces with the ninety mile per hour winds to deliver two massive sections of the boardwalk into our car park.
One section came to rest atop a row of cars, effectively flattening their roofs like some junkyard crushing machine. The other section nearly impaled the building, but came to a halt across the roundabout that circumnavigates the pool.
The building was thankfully sound. It had endured quite a beating from the forces of nature but it hadn’t even shuddered. Darkness fell and with the power out, the boardwalk relocated and my car gone I decided there was no harm in my going to bed.
Tomorrow would be a long day I thought.
During my twenty one years as a NYC Sanitation Worker I have seen my share of disasters, both natural and otherwise. Emerging onto my terrace next day overlooking the Atlantic Ocean I was awestruck by the sight I beheld.
Chaos had prevailed over the landscape rendering everything in sight broken, buried, or displaced. Communication was down. There were no working computers, telephones or cell phones. The local cell towers had been inundated. We were temporarily living in a third world country.
It was time for me to report for duty.
Donning my uniform and slinging a backpack full of supplies over my shoulder, I trudged out across the debris strewn terrain in search of my Department of Sanitation New York comrades.
I found them making a start on digging out Shorefront Parkway with a front end loader and a line of dump trucks. It looked like a hopeless task, akin to emptying the ocean with a teaspoon, but as they say, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.”
So on we went. I hitched a ride with one of the drivers who was heading into the garage and got behind the wheel of a massive dump truck, known in Sanitation parlance as a “Cut-Down” and headed to my assignment in Broad Channel.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, we noticed our efforts were making a difference. The unique smell of demolished homes had begun to dissipate as we hauled away 500,000 tons of debris to the temporary transfer site in Gateway National Park.
The entire neighborhood, though shaken, was rebounding. Celebrities of all stripes visited us to lend a helping hand either by swinging a hammer, giving a hug or shaking a hand. It felt good to have people take notice of what had happened.
While the recovery is nowhere near complete, our condition is surely improved around here. Most of the shops and restaurants are open, all the utilities are up and running and many of those who were displaced are now home.
That said, we remain wary of dubious contractors and shysters. It is rumored that one of the mayoral candidates has other plans for the money that has been set aside to rebuild our boardwalk! That does not sit well with the people of Rockaway, who have endured so much.
In closing I would like to say Thank You, from the bottom of my heart to everybody who has and who continues to help us. We will never forget your kindness.
* Ed Shevlin is a proud Irish American, fluent Irish speaker, and native of Rockaway.