Far Rockaway woman describes days of despair

Far Rockaway woman describes days of despair
By Steve Mosco

As the superstorm surged and the boardwalk standing between the beach and her apartment splintered, Bri Jackson wrapped herself up, hoped for the best and waited for daylight.

And three months after Hurricane Sandy hit, she’s still waiting.

Jackson is one of many Far Rockaway residents living day-to-day with Sandy’s aftermath. The superstorm that swept through the Northeast in late October has become akin to a deadbeat neighbor who keeps her up at night wreaking general havoc with an array of annoying quirks.

“The problems won’t go away,” said Jackson, 42, who lives in an apartment complex on Beach 59th Street comprised of four buildings that were at one time all operating off one generator. “The power and the heat would go out constantly. It’s so uncomfortable I thought I was going crazy.”

Jackson said the weeks and months of no power at all eventually gave way to days and nights of intermittent outages, when heat and electricity would be disrupted just as she was getting used to it.

Only in the last few weeks have things begun to improve for Jackson and her neighbors. The city recently gutted the most damaged apartments and connected the complex to a transformer, finally giving Jackson the sustained normalcy most other Queens residents have embraced for months.

Now with the warmth of a sitcom emanating from her functioning television, Jackson looks back on the chaos with a skeptical eye, wondering if it was even real at all.

“I have a hard time believing it really happened,” she said.

But more than the darkness, it was the unrelenting cold that drove Jackson to the brink. She admits going to extremes to stay warm at night, even using her gas oven to heat her apartment. She did that a couple times until one early morning she woke up and the oven was not letting off heat.

“I woke up out of a dead sleep and I knew something was wrong,” she said. “It was freezing, so I knew the oven was broke. I flicked my lighter and the flame shot up like a blow torch.”

Jackson had unknowingly filled her entire apartment with gas. She opened her windows to clear out the flammable and poisonous air before alerting her building manager to what had happened.

“I know I shouldn’t have heated the apartment like that, but it was so cold. I was desperate,” she said.

Jackson has heard stories of neighbors suffering depression and injuries related to the post-hurricane living conditions. She, too, has suffered from pangs of hopelessness and despair, but with the help of neighbors she has turned to charitable acts as a form of therapy.

She said two neighbors in particular, Marissa Bernowitz and Mama Rose, have taken the task of turning the neighborhood around. With them, she receives donations from organizations throughout the city and Long Island and delivers food, toiletries and toys to people who lost everything.

“Marissa and Mama Rose have been helping people since Day 1. Literally, the day after the storm they were outside giving people hot food,” she said. “If not for them, up the beach and anywhere else would have been far worse. The community stepped up way before the city did anything.”

And that lack of city response has haunted Far Rockaway since well before Sandy came to town, according to Jackson. She said the area has needed infrastructure improvements and resources for young people for as long as she has lived there: 30-plus years.

“I love the beach, I love nature, but it can be miserable here,” she said. “The politicians only came out here after the storm. We need help, especially the young people. We need community centers and after-school programs, places they can explore their talents before we lose them to the street.”

She said the city’s poor response was only highlighted by the storm’s arrival.

Other residents have endured many of the same problems. Gwendolyn Murray, who lives near the intersection of Beach 54th Street and Beach Channel Drive, said her heat had been off entirely for some time and now, though it was fixed, it was spotty.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” she said.

But Jackson does not follow that thought process. She grew up in Far Rockaway with the ocean a constant presence in her life. And she intends to ride that wave until daylight breaks through.

“I work hard to help others now. It distracts me enough to where I can’t think about my own hardships,” she said. “We came together and we’ll keep on living.”

-Reporter Karen Frantz contributed to this story

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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