|The Rockaways - Once a refuge for 9/11 emergency workers Harbor Lights Pub is now destroyed|
Belle Harbor, Rockaway Beach, Sunday: The cruel sea came pouring into this peninsula driven by the hurricane force winds of Hurricane Sandy.
For the first time in living memory the waters of Jamaica Bay met the Atlantic Ocean over land and left havoc and destruction in its wake.
The only frame of reference I can give you in terms of devastation is 9/11 and even that was concentrated in a small part of New York City.
I visited Ground Zero and its surrounding neighborhood just two days after that attack and Rockaway, Broad Channel, and the other communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy are déjà vu all over again.
Here in Rockaway, street after street are utterly destroyed, mounds of sand pushed in by the advancing waves clogging basements, streets, high water levels as tall as six feet destroying homes perhaps for ever.
“We will rebuild,” says Pat Nee, the proud Mayo man known unofficially as the Mayor ofRockaway, as he takes me around his destroyed neighborhood.
Pat came to Rockawayvia The Bronx in 1979 and left Ireland in 1956.
At 81 he thought he had seen it all. “I had seen nothing until I saw this storm” he told me.
Down the street Brendan Brosh is newly married and had just moved with his Texas-born wife Bianca to Rockawaywhere he spent much of his early years. Nothing remains of his house.
He was digging the sand out of his mother’s basement as we brought a few dozen Irish breakfasts for him and his extended family and workers courtesy of my brother-in-law’s restaurant O’Neill’s. It was their first hot meal in days.
Read more news on Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath here
As they gathered round, his family told harrowing stories of the night the storm struck -- including seeing the boardwalk literally float down the street, unmoored from its concrete holdings by the power of the storm. “Surreal” said Brendan.
There are many tales of heroism which will go untold, one in particular of a woman and child saved at the last moment after she fled her home panicked as the water advanced.
Fire joined wind and water in the great destruction orgy. Houses in several streets are burnt to the ground, great tangled mess of metal and cars burnt beyond recognition.
At the Harbor Light bar at Beach and 130th Street, a forlorn shamrock flag flies while all else is in ruins, burnt to the ground.
Harbor Lights owner Bernie Heeran is one of the most beloved men in the community. He lost his son in 9/11and his bar became a gathering place for the many heroes of that dreadful event. When it comes to cops and firefighters, Rockaway and nearby Breezy Point are Ground Zero.
The heroes this time around are the thousands of volunteers that we met from all over, armed with little more than shovels.
Among them were groups of dedicated Mormons doing sterling work, Team Rubicon, an organization composed of armed forces veterans and just ordinary folks, hundreds of friends, relatives, neighbors, and volunteers who have pitched in to try and reboot the lives of so many.
Providing food for free is Gibbons Irish Bar from Maspeth Queens, who have set up a mobile kitchen and are preparing hot meals for the many relief workers.
Providing heat in a huge “warming tent” is Navillus Construction, an Irish company we can also be proud of.
Conspicuous by their almost total absence is the Long Island Power Authority who might possibly be the worst utility company in the world, given their response to this disaster.
The Red Cross is widely criticized here too for delaying too long. “They were missing in action, It’s been friends, neighbors, volunteers,” says Brendan Brosh. “We had to fall back on our own.”
No one knows what the future holds for the newly homeless and cold and in need in the Rockaways.
What is not in question is the spirit and drive in the community which is apparent the moment you arrive there.
“We will rebuild. We will come back,” says Pat Nee. “That’s what we Irish do.”Read more news on Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath here