Hamilton Beach gets block-by-block survey

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

Volunteers combed through the 450 houses that comprise Hamilton Beach Saturday to take inventory of what residents still needed in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which inundated the sleepy island near John F. Kennedy International Airport with about 8 feet of water.

The surveyors fanned out from the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department building, at the corner of 104th Street and Davenport Court, which acts as the center for the village, doling out supplies and goodwill to anyone who approached.

About 30 volunteers knocked on every door in the neighborhood to find out whose houses were vacant, which had electricity and gas and who was covered under flood insurance. Doctors asked about residents’ health and tended to anyone who needed care.

Dinah Gronda’s family owned her home after her father paid off the mortgage decades ago, and the 34-year-old said she was not able to get flood insurance.

“It hit the entire house — the bedrooms, the kitchen,” said Gronda, who was ripping out the waterlogged wall boards inside the one-story home built on top of a basement.

She and her family do not know what to do, since now they are relying only on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund the repairs, and she doubts it will be enough.

She is one of the people who, after the survey, will be high on the list of people to receive help, according to Roger Gendron, president of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, who along with the office of state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), created the survey.

Gendron had only become president of the civic in February, he said, and was a little daunted when he was thrust into the position of community leader.

“I don’t know how it all got started,” he said Saturday, trying to recall how the building for the local volunteer fire department became the center of the community in the days following the storm.

When the 106th Precinct called the burly electrician and asked what he needed, he requested a car to patrol the neighborhood and bring some sense of calm to the dark streets.

Next he procured a floodlight and it was initially placed in the parking lot of the volunteer fire department, though Gendron later patched the light’s generator to power the fire house.

“It became a warming center,” he said. “This was the place where people could go to feel safe.”

And then, the donations from nearby nonprofits and companies started rolling in.

First it was the office of state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park), who provided 1,000 sandwiches. Then cooks at the Resorts World Casino, where Gendron works as an electrician, came with 70 trays of hot food.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Gendron recalled. “Every time something came in I would get teary-eyed.”

The Kiwanis Club of Glendale held several barbecues in the parking lot of the fire department, which by Saturday was also filled with warm clothes, cleaning supplies and volunteers willing to perform manual labor. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, originally from Taiwan, handed out $600 debit cards to residents who applied for them.

Gendron said the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were extremely helpful, but in the initial aftermath, when the larger agencies were still creeping into the area, it was the residents of Queens and the rest of New York who make the recovery happen.

“We took care of our own through this whole thing,” he said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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