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2012-11-05

"We Need Help": Battered by Sandy, Desperate Residents of New York’s Far Rockaways Plead for Aid

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Power has returned to most of Manhattan, but well over one million residents of New York City’s outer boroughs and New Jersey remain in the dark. We begin our coverage of Superstorm Sandy’s hardest hit areas with the Rockaways, a peninsula located in the southeast section of New York City. Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke and videographer Elizabeth Press traveled to the Rockaways on Friday and filed this report. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, and I am glad to be home.

With temperatures dropping into the thirties at night, concern is growing for the nearly two million people still without power after Superstorm Sandy. While power has been restored in most of Manhattan, many of the hardest-hit areas of the city remain in the dark, including Staten Island, Rockaways and Red Hook. In New Jersey, more than a million people are without power. On Sunday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 40,000 displaced residents of the city are now in need of shelter.

We begin today’s show in the Rockaways, a peninsula located in the southeast section of the city. Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke traveled there on Friday.

LOUIS DECAROLIS: If you didn’t see the people sitting around outside, it would look like a war zone, like they came in here, they bombed the neighborhood, and they left it. So, it’s eerie.

MIKE BURKE: We’re here on Beach 91st Street in the Far Rockaways section of Queens, New York. It’s Friday afternoon, four days after Hurricane Sandy devastated this community. We’re standing right next to what was the boardwalk that used to stretch along the beach here in the Rockaways. The boardwalk is now taking up much of the street. You can see the boardwalk literally on top of cars that were parked here. Residents tell us about five feet of water poured down this street on Monday. As you walk down the street today, you see debris in giant piles in front of almost every single house. Let’s go into one apartment that was completely destroyed on Monday during the storm.

LOUIS DECAROLIS: My name is Lewis Decarolis. I’m 51 years old. On Monday night, I was sitting here at the computer. I felt a little water at my feet, so I got the mop. I went into the back where my back bedroom is, and the bedroom door was closed. And I didn’t know it at the time, but the room apparently had filled up with water. I opened the door, and the water just came and blasted me, bouncing me off the wall. So when it hit me, I ran out this way. I opened up this door, and the backyard had filled up with probably three, three-and-a-half feet of water, and that came in. So I was caught in like a double whammy, from the front and the back.

MIKE BURKE: What were your first thoughts when you re-entered your apartment for the first time after the storm?

LOUIS DECAROLIS: My first thought was, am I going to be able to start all over at my age, you know? It’s a little difficult when you’re 50-something years old, not that I’m old, but—and I’m still alive, thank God. But why? And we need help. We need Red Cross to come around. We need FEMA to come around. A lot of people can’t get out of their houses. You’ve got a lot of senior citizens down here that can’t get out. My sons—I have two sons. Me and my sons, every day, we walk from house to house, and we knock on the doors to see if we can get them any water, if they need anything. Do they have their medicine in reach?

MIKE BURKE: Are you worried that you’re going to see more extreme storms like this, going forward?

LOUIS DECAROLIS: I think this was a long time coming. And maybe it’s a wake-up call for us. Will there be more storms? I don’t know. Probably.

MIKE BURKE: After we left Beach 91st Street, we walked east here in Far Rockaways. Street after street, block after block, completely devastated by Superstorm Sandy. We’re now here at Beach 84th Street in front of the Haven Ministries. We have heard that the church suffered massive flooding during Hurricane Sandy. And the deacon of the church has offered to give us a tour inside.

CURTIS BOLDEN: This is Haven’s International Ministries, and my name is Curtis Bolden. I’m a deacon here. And what you’re noticing is that the height of the water level is marked all around the wall. And right now I’m standing next to the water markings in the side sanctuary hall in the church, and the water markings are just below my shoulder. And I’m at six-foot-two. This is about—I’ll say about four-10, about four-foot-10-inches. This is the first time that people know of the bay actually met the sea in the middle at five feet. This water level was all throughout Far Rockaway. A lot of people don’t understand that. This was the water level straight across. You know, you can still see the floor is still covered in mud and some water we still have to get out, but there’s still no electricity to put a pump. We need generators.

MIKE BURKE: So, people that aren’t familiar with this neighborhood, you know, how would you describe it?

CURTIS BOLDEN: Far Rockaway is like a distant island of New York. It’s actually still a part of Queens, New York, but it’s a remote area, sort of like, some people would like to say, the stepchild of New York, where it’s far out. It’s not that easy to get out here by public transportation. It’s really very remote, somewhat similar to how Atlantic City looks, but Atlantic City is not surrounded by water like Far Rockaway is. You know, it’s going to take a while.

MIKE BURKE: We’re now outside the Hammel Houses, one of the largest public housing developments in the Rockaways. The National Guard has set up a food and water distribution point, and we’re going to talk to some of the folks standing in line.

ORENA ELWOODS: My name is Orena Elwoods [phon.]. This week been really hectic on us, especially the little ones. If the ones like Pampers and milk and stuff like that, it’s kind of crazy.

MIKE BURKE: What message do you have for city officials and Mayor Bloomberg?

ORENA ELWOODS: Help! We need help! Seriously.

HAMMEL HOUSES RESIDENT 1: The most that we need right now is lights. At least you have light, you can see. At night time, it’s pitch black. You can’t even see what’s in front of you.

HAMMEL HOUSES RESIDENT 2: Stay here. With another hour and a half to two hours, the whole Far Rockaway is pitch black. They’re putting the generators out there on the boulevard. But then if they put the generators in the middle of the projects, we could probably get some light within the apartment or for the generators.

CRYSTAL: My name is Crystal. We’re standing on line because we have no needs, no means to supply for our kids and our family, and this is the only way. We stand on line every day. And we get supplies from the Army and the government, and that’s about it.

MIKE BURKE: How long have you been in line today?

CRYSTAL: Today we’ve been on line for about two, three hours. And it’s not like we have no other option, so we have to wait. And yesterday was four hours, and the other day was about six hours. And as people who need, we’re going to stay out here for 10 hours, if we have to, to supply for our kids.

MIKE BURKE: If you had a chance to speak with Mayor Bloomberg, what would you tell him?

CRYSTAL: He needs to just step up. He stepped up a little. He sent us the food and the transportation. So he needs to, you know, step in our shoes and come out here and see us and see what we’re going through, just like any other government should do for their community, too. So he needs to come out here instead of sending people out here, to just know that, you know, we’re not mad at him—there’s nothing he could do about it—but he can do more.

PAJO: Name is Pajo [phon.], and we’re getting waters and stuff to support my house.

HAMMEL HOUSES RESIDENT 3: We need more help down here. We need our electricity on. What are we going to do? Last year, I left for it. This year, I stayed. And I wish I would have left this year.

MIKE BURKE: How would you describe what this past week was like?

PAJO: It was a disaster.

HAMMEL HOUSES RESIDENT 3: Sad. I felt like I—I really felt like I was the people in South Africa. When it’s pitch dark, that’s what it actually looks like. When you’re walking down these dirt roads and the sands and stuff, that’s what it actually looks like.

LOUIS DECAROLIS: We’re going to pull out of this. Yeah, Rockaway got devastated, but I think we’re going to pull out of this and come out of this a lot stronger and hopefully a lot better.

AMY GOODMAN: That piece produced by Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke and videographer Elizabeth Press. Mike joins us here in the studio.

Mike, the anger is intense in Rockaways right now.

MIKE BURKE: Yeah. We stood in line with some of these people, and they had been in line for hours just to get bottled water. They were asking, you know, "Where is the Red Cross? Where is the city?" And interestingly, we were down there on Friday, and the very next day Mayor Bloomberg made an unannounced visit to the Rockaways. The press was not notified about the visit. But a NY1 reporter happened to see the mayor there and caught a very interesting interaction between the mayor and some local residents.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that clip.

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 1: When are we going to get some help?

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 2: Keep convincing people [inaudible]

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 1: We’ve been out here [bleep] days!

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 2: Nothing right is going on here. We’ve got not even [inaudible] —

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 1: Seven [bleep] days!

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 2: There’s old ladies in my building, got nothing.

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 1: You’ve been running us for four years!

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 2: Mayor Bloomberg, this is the first drop-off site over the bridge. We can’t even get a bottle of water, a hot chocolate—

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: You can have, right there, coffee.

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 2: Where?

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: One o’clock.

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 2: One o’clock?

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: One o’clock [inaudible].

FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT 2: So, we’ve got to wait from last night to 1:00 in the morning—in the afternoon.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We’re out here trying to do it as fast as we can.

AMY GOODMAN: That were the residents, angry at Mayor Bloomberg.

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