Fighting Sandy in the Rockaways

Chewin’ out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It’s not hard not far to reach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach

Up on the roof, out on the street
Down in the playground the hot concrete
Bus ride is too slow
They blast out the disco on the radio

Rock Rock Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Boardwalk 1

The Ramones sang its simple pleasures. The boardwalk is now at the bottom of the sea. The homes all along the thin witch-finger of the peninsula are soaked to eye level and silted with muck. Superstorm Sandy did a number on the Rockaways, and all the way down the Jersey coast. I volunteered with New York Cares to help homeowners with the demolition that comes before rebuilding can begin. It will take a long time and a lot of work.


My co-workers and I worked on three houses. We tore out sodden paneling in one, ripped up a ruined hardwood floor in another, and tore the moldy drywall out of an entire ground floor of the third. That’s the house I worked on. Out of respect for the owners, I took no photos of any homes we worked on. I flip 700lb truck tires for fun and wrestle maniacs on Saturday mornings when I could be watching cartoons. Let me say this: demolition is hard work. Smashing walls is fun. Shoveling hundreds of pounds of mushy sheet rock into trash bags and lugging them to the curb, not so much. But that is the job. You’re not there to have fun, you’re there to help people who have lost so much. The worst thing I saw was the door to a girl’s bedroom, polka-dotted with stickers, with nothing inside but sagging walls and sea wrack.

The forward operating base and the bus from Team Rubicon
The forward operating base and the bus from Team Rubicon

The good folks of Team Rubicon, veterans who mobilize to assist with disaster relief, were the first on the scene. AmeriCorps and Conservation Corps took over, and New York Cares is mobilizing the employees of many companies who bus their workers to these sites to offer the manpower needed to make a dent in this enormous tragedy.

Fobbits unwelcome... get to work
Fobbits unwelcome… get to work

I won’t call the scope mind-boggling. You can open Google Maps and trace from Connecticut down to Delaware to see where the storm’s fist landed. The damage is comparable to Katrina, but not the loss of lives. The east coasters were lucky. We had a bigger public transportation system, and many of the shore homes were owned by folks who could afford to leave. A thousand died in Katrina. Sandy killed over a hundred, counting the Caribbean islanders who died in its wake. And most of all, we had seen Katrina. We had not been teased with smaller hurricanes. Irene threw us for a loop, and when the NOAA said Sandy was her big bad sister with a razor in her shoe, we took notice. And she dragged her nails down the coastline and tore our sandcastles apart.

Rockaway Boardwalk 2

If you want to assist, I recommend you contact New York Cares and Jersey Cares to see what help is needed. If you don’t want to don Tyvek suits and masks to tear down moldy houses, you can help sort relief goods and equipment, or deliver meals to the elderly who were displaced by the storm, or help schools and kids in the areas.

And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually…