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Floods and fires devastate now isolated Rockaways

One of the areas of New York hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy was the Rockaways, sitting on a thin peninsula across the water from Brooklyn.

 

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The Rockaways face the Atlantic Ocean and form a natural barrier about 10km long. Hurricane Sandy battered the peninsula with gusts of up to 140 km/h and a 4m tidal surge.

It destroyed the iconic 9km Rockaway Boardwalk, leaving just the concrete columns in place. The wooden deck was driven almost 300m into the streets overlooking the river.

Over a week after the hurricane struck, almost 40,000 customers out of a population of 130,000 on the peninsula remain without electricity, according to local energy provider the Long Island Power Authority (Lipa).

Electricity is carried on telegraph poles which broke like toothpicks as the wind and waters from Hurricane Sandy roared through the area.

“It’s [the power] going to be down for a while,” said a contractor repairing the overhead electrical wires.

“We are trying to get the street lighting on for safety. We have not even assessed the damage.”

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Where power could be restored, Lipa estimates about 55,000 customers require their homes to be certified by a qualified engineer before it can be safely turned back on.

But with freezing temperatures, and no power, those who are left on the Rockaways are crowding around generators seeking warmth and power, or are moving to shelters for the homeless.

Local resident John Ortiz is typical of what is facing many of the residents. He owned a small block of 10 fl ats whose basement was fl ooded to a depth of 1.25m by the storm surge.

“Ten boilers and 10 meters all gone,” said Ortiz as he cleared up the damage with two co-workers. “We’ll replace it all, what else can we do?”

Flooding also triggered electrical fires. Breezy Point - on the south western tip of the peninsula - was worst hit locally, with over 100 houses burning down.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has been drafted in to clear the streets littered with debris.

“We’re clearing one block at a time,” an officer told NCE. “But there’s another 20 to go.”

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With most of the Rockaways area without power it feels isolated in comparison to the rest of Long Island.

And it is likely to feel that way for some time. The hurricane washed away part of the metro line over Jamaica Bay linking the Rockaways with the rest of the New York subway network.

Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) president Tom Prendergast said “hundreds of feet of track” on the subway line linking the Rockaway peninsula with the rest of Long Island had the trackbed washed out.

The line runs through the Jamaica Bay nature reserve and will require a full engineering solution before being recommissioned.

As a result New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has begun a temporary ferry service to transfer passengers from the island to Manhattan.

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