Daily Israel Report

'I Am Homeless. My House is Gone.'

A stark reality check in Queens, New York, after Hurricane Sandy.
By Hana Levi Julian, MSW, LCSW-R
First Publish: 10/31/2012, 4:55 PM

Firefighter stands in Breezy Point after Hurricane Sandy
Firefighter stands in Breezy Point after Hurricane Sandy
Reuters

A whirlwind scan of contacts to check post-hurricane status the New York area on Wednesday abruptly came to a screeching halt when a friend responded simply: 

"I am homeless. My house is gone. All the houses on the beach are gone; all the houses on the block have 6 feet of water. There are cars are all over the place. I am in the office. Thanks for asking.”

The victim was not “the average Joe” – he is a first responder, someone who rescues others in distress. He was one of the people who went racing down to Ground Zero to search for survivors within minutes of hearing the news of the "9/11" Al Qaeda attack on New York's World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  But D.B. was not the only one left homeless by Hurricane Sandy, who made no distinctions as she went roaring up the Northeastern corridor before turning westward towards the Midwest and the Great Lakes.

In the Breezy Point section of Queens, near the water, and therefore vulnerable to storms, more than 100 homes were destroyed by a six-alarm inferno within the flood that overwhelmed the tight-knit community. It's located right near Belle Harbor, home to what was just this past spring deemed "the priciest block" in the borough. Breezy Point is located on the western end of the Rockaway Peninsula, between Rockaway Inlet and Jamaica Bay on the landward side, and the Atlantic Ocean.

All told, 111 homes burned to the ground, and 20 others were heavily damaged despite the best efforts of some 200 firefighters called to the scene. Most couldn't reach the homes to save them, due to the massive flooding that blocked the fire trucks on the roads. Not one building was left untouched by the Frankenstorm that ripped through the area. Those that were not torched, were destroyed by flooding. But miraculously, no one died, and no one was seriously injured – and that in a fire estimated to be one of the worst in the history of New York City.

A large percentage of those who live in Breezy Point are first responders, firefighters and police officers themselves. They're tough, and they don't plan to leave. Every resident interviewed by the various news networks have said the same thing: “This is where we live, and we aren't leaving. We will rebuild.”

Residents of the area in which the neighborhood is situated, the Rockaways and Five Towns, face an uphill battle over the next week -- possibly longer. Electricity is not likely to be restored until the weekend and possibly later, officials said. Downed trees and power lines have made travel on the roads hazardous in the area and caution is being advised. Some roads are still flooded.

(Ed. Note: There is a “fully operational” kosher shelter in West Hempstead at 400 Nassau Boulevard for those in need. It is essential to be aware that perishable food should not be eaten under any circumstances if it has not been refrigerated since the start of the storm.)

Both the Achiezer and Hatzolah phone lines have been inundated with calls regarding the safety and well being of the elderly and handicapped population, the organizations noted on the local New York-based Yeshiva World website.

“We are strongly urging that anyone who can safely evacuate these relatives or friends out of the neighborhood, should do so. We are facing a prolonged period of time without heat, lights, or communications and it is simply unsafe for them to remain at home. Should you need help in moving them safely, we have volunteers standing by ready and able to assist,” they wrote.