Staff of the Rockaway Social Security Office have traveled the peninsula without a home base since Sandy destroyed their place of work. But after nearly seven months of both giving and receiving recovery assistance, the office is once again open for business.
The night of the storm, John D’Agostino, the Rockaway Beach Boulevard branch manager, said he got a call from the federal police saying flood water had disrupted the alarm system and set it off. D’Agostino turned on his television and watched the destruction ensue, unable to do anything about it.
“You could see our office on fire,” he said. “There was nothing we could do at that point.”
A couple of days after the storm, D’Agostino and his staff went to see the damage.
“Just driving down here, the streets were filled with debris,” he said.
The group received federal aid and reconstruction started in January. The walls were stripped, wiring was redone and everything was replaced.
“You can never foresee disasters like the one we’ve just gone through,” said Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin. “But we always rise to the occasion. We’ve seen that demonstrated here.”
While the office was out of commission, the Rockaway office’s 13 employees set up shop at FEMA sites and Assemblymember Michelle Titus’ office. Even though five of the Social Security staffers were displaced themselves, their work never stopped.
“We knew the community needed Social Security,” said New York Regional Commissioner Bea Disman.
In Titus’ office, the Social Security team was able to serve more than 1,000 people and work face-to-face with residents who were unable to make the trip to the closest office, in Jamaica.
Colvin said Social Security’s restored Rockaway office is “phenomenal.”
“The devastation here was unbelievable. But there was never a doubt we would reopen,” he said.
The Rockaway Social Security Office after Sandy damaged the building and following its reopening.
(Top photo courtesy Stephanie Francis of the Social Security Administration; bottom photo THE COURIER/Maggie Hayes)