Many of you know, I am the director of public affairs for America Works of New York, Inc. We are a private employment company that helps low income and hard to serve New Yorkers get back into the workplace. We have four offices in New York City including a large office in Far Rockaway, Queens. Our Far Rockaway office was hit very hard by Sandy. Since the storm hit, America Works has been trying to help our clients put their lives back together. Below is a story my co-workers and I have put together. We feel this story needed to be told to get more assistance to the Rockaways.
Hard times in Far Rockaway
By Anthony Bozza
The year’s first snowfall usually comes with joyous anticipation, but this year, the northeast greeted their first snowfall with feelings of dread. Nine days after Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast, Far Rockaway and many other areas still remain without power and heat. Without these utilities that we have come to take for granted, Myriam, 43, and her two sons, George,21, and Gregory, 19, and many other families are struggling to keep warm. At night, Myriam and her sons huddle together on the living room floor of their apartment on the 9th floor. Like many of their neighbors, they use their stove as the only source of heat, waking up periodically to put water on to boil. Many whose homes were destroyed are left in the streets to burn chunks of the boardwalk to keep from freezing.
Outside their apartment, garbage piles up and mice run through the hallways. The building’s generators were destroyed by the water and sand that came in during Superstorm Sandy. The elevators, heat, and lights have remained out since the storm. The elderly are trapped in their apartments without assistance. Unable to access clean water, they are forced to depend on neighbors to bring it to them. Luckily, George and Gregory have been bringing them water, and helping those in wheelchairs up and down the stairs.
During the day, George and Gregory can be found helping the Red Cross and National Guard hand out supplies to their fellow disaster victims. While Far Rockaway has received a supply of clothes, blankets, non-perishable foods, water and batteries to be distributed, there is always a need for more supplies and volunteers. In many locations the supplies are thrown in large parking lots and people are left to rummage through them in search of what they need.
LIPA (Long Island Power Authority), who is responsible for supplying electricity to the area, has been telling the people of Far Rockaway that it will take seven to 10 days for power to be restored. Thousands remain without power and the residents have little hope of it being restored anytime soon. Even though the situation is dire, many refuse to leave because they fear that their property will be looted. In Myriam’s building alone, there have been 12 reported cases already.
Before the storm hit, Myriam, who was a nursing assistant, was told by her employer to file for unemployment, just in-case the nursing home was destroyed. As a result, the Human Resources Administration of New York directed her and her sons to America Works, a company that helps those receiving government aid find employment. Upon entering our doors, we were immediately heart broken by their personal story and the current state of Far Rockaway. Here was a family that has been ravaged by Sandy and left without power seeking employment and a way back on their feet.
Myriam and her two sons headed home from America Works Wednesday night to try and return before dark. From Manhattan, they would take the train to Jamaica and attempt to catch a ‘dollar van’ back to Far Rockaway, a two hour trip. The vans stop running as the sun goes down. The people of Far Rockaway fear being robbed because there are no lights on the street and they lack cell phone service. Before the family left, we gave them lanterns and supplies. They wrapped them in plastic shopping bags and put them in their backpacks so they would not become targets for robbery upon returned.
Wednesday night, as a nor’easter brought even colder weather and snow, the situation is became life threatening. The temperature reached freezing with wind gusts up to 65 mph. As if the people of Far Rockaway have not endured enough, they will try to endure yet another trying event.
America Works has an office in Far Rockaway and we have been assisting the area since the storm came last week, sending supplies and staff to help the residents. But our help alone cannot save the people of Far Rockaway. They need more supplies and volunteers. They need the local and state government to act more effectively, cleaning up the piles of garbage and addressing the issue of electricity more efficiently.