Not all Rockaway residents evacuated


| tcullen@queenscourier.com |

Billy Orr was one of many who decided to stay and ride out Sandy as it swept through the New York metropolitan area between Monday, October 29 and Tuesday, October 30.

The five-year Rockaway resident was not in town for Hurricane Irene, but many evacuated during that 2011 storm, which only brought stronger than normal winds. Because of that, Orr opted to stay in his beachfront apartment this year, assuming it would not be much different.

But on Thursday, November 1, he and other residents around Beach 117th Street were trying to push cars out of the waist-high sand that had collected at the end of the street.

“[Staying] was a big mistake,” he said.

As Sandy approached, elected officials urged Rockaway residents to heed the mandatory evacuation order from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Roughly 60 residents stayed in his building, 136 Ocean Grand, Orr said, and, aside from power outages, the damage was minimal. The underground garage, however, was flooded with water. There was sand and water that poured into the party room on the building’s ground floor.

Even worse were the emotions stirred, the raw fear as the waves crashed toward the shore and up the streets of Rockaway.

“It was terrifying,” Orr said. “I would never do it again.”

His main concern was that the colossal weather would ultimately destroy the building, leaving the dozens of residents homeless and out in the storm.

“I was worried the building was coming down,” he said.

Waves were so tremendous, Orr said, that pieces of the boardwalk were picked up and brought into the street, sometimes taking a parked car with them.

“[The waves] picked up the boardwalk and moved it like nothing,” he said.

In the days after Sandy’s fury, the building’s residents were still sticking it out, many of them staying in the building even without power, Orr said. They were going to barbecue, he said, sounding almost cheerful.

“We’re staying here tonight.”

Then he rejoined the others and continued working to push a truck out of mounds of sand.

— With additional reporting by Alexa Altman