Nearly two months after Hurricane Sandy, the devasted community of Rockaway Beach, N.Y. is still reeling.Pieces of the boardwalk are littered across the beach, homes need to be cleaned in full hazmat gear, and insurance claims are only just starting to get resolved if at all.
Many people we spoke to said they felt let down by the city government and that local business owners and individuals from the community played a crucial role in organising volunteers and donations. Devin Fitzgerald, a resident of the area, said, “I don’t know how we would have survived without the community pulling together.”
We saw the way the community can rally together over Thanksgiving when Occupy Sandy and independent volunteers organised dinners throughout the area. Many of these were grassroots efforts that relied on social media to get the word out.
As the recovery process continues, the needs of the community have shifted away from emergency items like food, clothing, and cleaning supplies to financial aid, legal services for FEMA/insurance claims, and building supplies. Some people we spoke to said their insurance claims have been denied, and that claims evaluators only came last week to survey home damage.
As of December 17, over 507,950 individuals have registered for FEMA assistance and $1.09 billion in aid will be distributed as a result of Sandy, according to the government agency. Some people said they had received FEMA aid, but others said they were denied because of insurance issues.
Electricity and power are back, but phone service has been slower in returning, especially for people who rely on copper land lines instead of fibre-optic connections. The people using the older service tend to be older themselves and lower-income, some don’t even have cell-phones, and the lack of phone service is preventing them from contacting family and insurance.
Richard Ganci, who lives on B 115th St, spent 54 days without phone service, just getting it back this past week. He missed his uncle’s funeral two weeks ago because his phone was out. Ganci has been using prepaid cell phones but has had trouble securing them and getting minutes because many stores in the area remain closed. He has received FEMA aid but has been having trouble getting through to insurance without a working landline.
Despite the challenges, people are moving forward.
In a small restaurant bar by the beach, many locals gathered to distribute toys, through a toy drive organised by Rockaways-native Donna Miley-Figueroa, who lives in Manhattan now. The community came together to relax, sip eggnog, and enjoy the holiday spirit, gathering their spirit for the long rebuilding process ahead.
Suncycle Studios played an important role as a donation collection and distribution centre after the storm.
We first met Suncycle Studios owner Kenny Peña on this corner where he was cooking up hot dogs and hamburgers for lines of people. Now it looks more normal.
YANA served as a base of operations for Occupy Sandy and its owner Salvatore Lopizzo has been an important local organiser for relief and recovery. They are busy rebuilding the store so they can reopen.
Donna Miley-Figueroa (left) has been organising donations and volunteers through Facebook since the storm struck.
Many there told us, Miley-Figueroa has been more helpful to the community than outside aid organisations.
From the Rockaways, but now living in Manhattan, Miley-Figueroa has two children of her own and a full time job, but she has been working non-stop to help her community.
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