Notes from Breezy Point

October 31, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |


Breezy Point is a neighborhood of about 12,000 people in the New York City borough of Queens, on the western end of the skinny Rockaway peninsula. In the face of a hurricane on the Atlantic Ocean it is completely vulnerable and there was a mandatory evacuation order for this area. The night Hurricane Sandy hit, the news showed horrible fires raging through the neighborhood – the flames zooming across the rooftops at super speeds because of the fierce winds. By the morning, some 80-100 homes had been burned to the ground and nearby, on the beachfront side, many more homes were devastated by floods and wind. A team from Revolution newspaper went out there to talk to people, many who had lost their homes.

To get to the peninsula you have to cross a bridge and immediately after this, there was a police checkpoint where they were stopping all the cars and asking everyone what they were doing in the area. If you didn’t live there you couldn’t drive in and had to you’re your car and walk in (which was a long way to Breezy Point). When I walked back past the checkpoint, I heard one guy in a car explain what he was doing there, telling the cop that he was from Allstate Insurance and he was immediately waved through. But photographers and most press people had to hike in.

This is a mainly upper working class, middle class, pretty exclusively white neighborhood. Lots of cops and firemen, but also nurses, teachers, city workers and some doctors and lawyers. This is a very, very tight-knit community (as the people there will tell you) and lots of people have owned these homes and lived in them for generations.

As we walked down the road toward the beach you could already start seeing the destruction, but then as it turned out, this was nothing compared to what we would see when we got to the beachfront. The destruction was very severe. You have to walk in pretty far, past a lot of houses that mainly got damaged by flooding. But then, you take a turn, go up a ways and then turn on to the beach and this is where you see all the homes that were severely damaged. Some of them down to the ground, some smashed up beyond repair, windows blown out, some houses just seemed split into two.

On the beachfront, lots of damage – flooding and many houses just destroyed by wind.

Many of the people we talked to who were there either checking on their home or trying to salvage belongings were in a state of shock, especially the ones whose homes had been burned to the ground. They were not really thinking beyond that day in terms of what they were going to do next.

One thing to note is that in the beachfront area, about 50% of the people are year-round-residents; 50% only live there during the summer. This means that they have another house that they live in (and can now go live in). There is a sharp contrast here to other areas where people who have lost their homes, either have no where to go, no support system, etc. No one here was talking about going to a shelter, most were staying with friends, relatives or had other houses. Because there are so many cops and firemen and other city workers in the area, there seems to be a lot of confidence in the authorities. As we were leaving, it was getting dark and lots of cops who live there were going in to stay the night to “guard against looters” (someone told us).

People did say that the authorities came around several times before the storm, telling them that there was a mandatory evacuation order, they also called people every two hours to tell them this. There were quite a few people we talked to who said they stayed during the storm, or knew others who did. But seemed like most people left. Those who stayed talked about how ferocious the waters were, how quickly they came up, in 20-30 minutes they were five feet high.

It was somewhat hard to talk to people, some of them were almost in tears – or just clearly in a semi-state of shock. But some people were also trying to be optimistic, saying that the community would survive. There seemed to be some sense of “pulling together” – coming from the fact that this is a very tight-knit, a community somewhat known for not welcoming “outsiders.”

One woman who is a nurse talked about the history of the place, that some of the platforms that the homes are built on are the original ones going back to the squatter tents in the early 1900s. The neighborhood became a co-op in the 1960s and they successfully fought the government when the feds came in and wanted to make the beach public, she was very proud of that. She said in order to get into the neighborhood you have to have three people in the neighborhood vouch for you. People there say that “this is what has keep the neighborhood the safest one around, where everyone knows each other”, etc. She was explaining this and then paused for a long time, then said, “ we do need to diversify.” There is clearly still lot of racism in this area. But when she was asked what she meant by this, she said, “well, we need to have different cultures, that’s makes it more interesting.”  When asked if others in the community want this to happen, she said yes, lots of people do, that they work in the city with lots of other kinds of people already, are friends with them, etc. I commented to her, that lots of people might be surprised to hear someone from that community say that, that they would think that this neighborhood is against letting others in. She said, no, things are changing, people are ready for this and it’s going to happen. This was interesting. This woman also had a lot of confidence that the government was going to help people – she said that lots of people there were hit hard by 9-11 (someone else told us that 29 firemen and cops from this neighborhood died in 9-11); she said so many people from this community work for the city, etc. – as if this meant that the government would therefore take care of them.

In talking to a number of other people, there seemed to be quite a few in the community who didn’t think the storm was going to be that bad – thought it was going to be like Hurricane Irene last year. Maybe they were Not influenced by the media/official lack of alarm at the approaching storm, but there did seem to be some people who didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it turned out, even if they left, they were shocked when they came back to find such devastation.

There was lots of news coverage out there – major news, weather channel, Spanish news, etc.

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