It has been a year since Superstorm Sandy hurtled into Queens, leaving a scar on the Rockaway Peninsula and its neighbors on the nearby mainland. Other parts of Queens also felt the fury of the hurricane, but the coastal communities headed the borough’s casualty list both in terms of damage to property and human lives.
Many parts of the Rockaways, Broad Channel and Howard Beach still are struggling to re-thread the fabric of everyday life as residents and business owners await more FEMA aid and insurance payments.
But more than $250 million in FEMA funds has already been distributed in Queens, and some of this money can be found in rehabbed houses and storefronts as well as Small Business Administration loans.
Despite their spirit and will to recover, many Queens residents face challenging odds 12 months after the storm of the century.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner hopes to move back into one of the first houses rebuilt in the fire-ravaged area of Breezy Point after Sandy burned down 126 homes in his close-knit beachfront community. Many other homes are in the pipeline, but some residents are awaiting the final rezoning of the FEMA flood maps, which will determine guidelines for house design and insurance rates, which are already on the rise.
Rockaway Beach made a comeback over the summer with hipsters from Brooklyn riding the Rockabus to the shore and other visitors flocking to the sand near the makeshift boardwalk. The A train, knocked out of service for six months, returned to take commuters to jobs on the mainland and to bring tourists out to buoy the fragile economy. Weekday ferry service, revived as an alternative to the shuttered subway, might become permanent.
In a sign of the devastation that still haunts the waterfront communities, Doctors of the World USA — an international humanitarian rescue group — has opened a free clinic in the Rockaways to treat uninsured residents. Occupy Sandy, a spin-off of the anti-Wall Street movement whose volunteers were among the first on the ground to help Rockaway storm victims, has begun training high school students for jobs to transform the peninsula.
The future of Queens’ battered communities hangs on the next generation. The Rockaway Youth Task Force, founded by Milan Taylor, 23, after the storm hit, collected supplies for residents and will mark the one-year anniversary by breaking ground on a community garden.
These are the leaders who will shape the future of the borough’s vulnerable but vibrant waterfront neighborhoods.