STORY: Rockaway Beach Returns

Written by Elizabeth Morse

With power largely restored and evacuees beginning to return, residents along Shore Front Parkway in the south shore of Long Island are trying to deal with a “new normal.”

The famed boardwalk is gone. The beach that drew millions has been rearranged with several feet of sand pushed inland into yards and homes. South-facing walls show the scars of strong winds, flying debris and an epic tidal surge. Abandoned cars, ruined by water and falling branches, line the streets. Some homes will never be habitable.
Yet everywhere, there are signs of new hope.

Sandy Relief

Ruth Larkin calls herself a trooper. She lives in a high rise just across from the beach. Power was restored to her building three weeks after the storm. Ruth has been living other family members who lost everything during the storm. Nonetheless, she worries about others worse off.

“I feel sorry for those who lost family members,” she says. That’s why she’s working on getting some holiday decorations put up in the lobby, in hopes of creating some cheer for her grieving neighbors.

During the weeks when the area was without power, people helped each other. Even before the area opened to outsiders on Nov. 23, the Red Cross was there, bringing meals, toiletries and clean-up supplies. “So many people are grateful for what you did,” she says of the assistance they were given. “It was almost more than we needed.”

Sandy Relief

Finnegan didn’t evacuate before Sandy hit. He stayed in his 12th floor apartment across from Rockaway Beach, while the power went out and the ocean seemed to swallow the land below.

After the storm, Finnegan, who had always traveled by elevator, was afraid to use the stairs. But his owner, Sarah Searson, insisted that he needed his walk, so three times per day they went down and back up the 12 flights.

At first Searson had to drag her Lab mix out to “do his business,” but after a few days Finnegan got used to the stair climbs, losing three pounds in 12 days. Neighbors say he looks healthier as a result. Now, with the elevator again working and more areas cleared of debris for his walks, Finnegan is finding the return to normal is easier for him than for some of the humans he lives with.

Sandy Relief

“Hey, I’m from Jersey,” John Sieber says with a shrug, explaining why he drove from Florida to New York, arriving the day after Halloween. He’s worked with his Bobcat every day, moving from Coney Island to Breezy Point and now to Rockaway Beach as authorities reopen the storm-ravaged streets, helping clear debris.

Sieber gives to organizations like the Red Cross, but this time he needed to make a personal response. A recent diagnosis of brain cancer helped him make the decision to come north to help others. “I’m not going to give in to it,” he declares. “I’m going to go out on my own terms.”

Sandy ReliefFor 12 years, Maria Curcio has been able to watch the ocean from her front windows. After riding out Hurricane Irene without major problems, her family decided to stay put during Hurricane Sandy. They were unprepared for Sandy’s intensity.

First there was the wind. Pieces of debris broke third floor windows and drove four feet of sand into the lower level. Then the tidal surge came.

After the storm, there was no way to leave. Neighbors in the corner unit, their home no longer structurally sound, took refuge with Curcio. Meanwhile, two large scarecrows Curcio had attached to her second floor deck for Halloween were still in place after the storm, look freshing and new perched above the storm-littered street.

For days, the main effort was to dig through the sand to try to clear a path to the street. Without power and trapped in place by debris, the family was relieved when government and relief workers were allowed into the area.
The Red Cross was among the first to arrive, Curcio said, along with church volunteers. “I haven’t needed to cook,” she said. “I can (cook) now, but it helps to have the meals delivered so we can continue work on the house.”

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