The Rockaways: Still in Recovery

Almost one year ago, Hurricane Sandy tore through New York destroying homes, flooding streets and leaving the City without electricity for weeks. The official classification “Superstorm,” was not good enough, so the news media dubbed Hurricane Sandy “Frankenstorm” in reference to the unique conditions that created its severe impact.  In fact, recent reports show it was a once in 700 years natural disaster.  Still, in the months following much has been made of the inadequacy of preparation or immediate response.

The most dramatically visible signs of the storm’s destruction have been largely mitigated and so common perception says “it’s not so bad anymore.”  Sadly this could not be further from the truth.  When you see a neat yard and no debris out front, you don’t see the fact that nothing will ever grow in that yard again.  When you see a newly opened Dunkin’ Donuts, you don’t see the local business owner who was wiped out and is unable to return.

Aside from myriad complaints regarding municipal response, the Rockaways has had a fundamental lack of resource access since time immemorial.  The area has long been the city’s dumping grounds for the poor, the elderly and the disabled.  It has been systematically denied a fair share of public resources or investment.  Locals sometimes refer to the area as “The Sixth Borough” and too often it suffers from a case of “out of sight, out of mind” from the rest of the city. This means that post-Sandy many well-meaning agencies scrambled to respond without any understanding of the local environment.  There was a need to rapidly educate these institutions on local culture, history, demographics and conditions; meanwhile residents were falling through the cracks.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, private donations of time and volunteerism are turning elsewhere.  As such, coordination and communication between local providers is more important than ever. The client who no longer suffers from “the Rockaway Cough” might still be in need of legal assistance.  Just as a building’s rehabilitated facade can hide the gutted basement and first floor, many residents are now facing a new set of problems as stress, anxiety and depression from the long battle have begun to take their toll.

Make no mistake about it; the Rockaways still has a long fight ahead of it.  Scratch just beneath the surface, spend some time, talk to a resident and you will find the need is still great.

Noah A. Barth – Program Coordinator for the Doctors of the World Rockaways Free Clinic.