Tag Archives: sandy

Star of Queens: Devon Michael O’Connor, president and founder, Welcome To Whitestone


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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NIKKI DJOKOVICH

Community Service: In 2011, Devon Michael O’Connor formed the non-profit Welcome To Whitestone Commercial and Residential Civic Association (WTW).  This fourth generation Whitestone resident gave other area residents and local businesses a voice backed by an association that would address their issues and concerns. WTW has formed relationships with other local associations, political leaders and city organizations in order to ensure action on the public’s issues and concerns. The association also promotes and produces family-fun events that benefit the local community.

Background: “This is my home. I’ve played in all the parks, graduated from the local schools and I shop in the local businesses. Now, as a business owner myself, I continue to urge the residents of Whitestone to support their local businesses,” O’Connor said.  To quote a friend of O’Connor’s, “It’s important to keep the unity in community.”

Favorite Memory: O’Connor’s most inspirational and spiritual memory is when he began collecting needed supplies for all who were affected by Sandy. Backed by an immense amount of support from the community, his civic group managed, in under 48 hours, to collect, sort and deliver over 600 large bags of food, clothing and toiletries to several shelters in the Rockaways.

Biggest Challenge: “One of the biggest challenges I faced was overcoming the political opposition I received when forming my civic group,” O’Connor said. He is very grateful for the Whitestone community being so accepting of the various projects that WTW has implemented.

Inspiration: O’Connor is inspired by individuals that understand that the future is a direct result of what is done in the present. Also by the people who are able to find solutions to the problems that others may have given up on. “If your goals are for the purpose of benefiting others in a positive way, the word ‘can’t’ is not an option,” says O’Connor.

 

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$50 million to protect Howard Beach from storms


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Howard Beach homes will now be protected, starting at the coast.

Spring Creek and Jamaica Bay will undergo a multi-million dollar resiliency project that Governor Andrew Cuomo said will better protect homes and businesses from destructive storms.

“Like several other communities located by the water, Howard Beach suffered incredible damage from storm surges during Sandy,” Cuomo said. “To strengthen Howard Beach against future flooding and storms, we are moving forward on a major project that improves the natural infrastructure along Spring Creek and the Jamaica Bay coast, with the approval of federal funding.”

About 3,000 homes were damaged during Sandy in the low-lying community.

Roughly $50 million will go towards engineering, designing and executing this project, which will cover 150 acres. Excavation, re-contouring and re-vegetation will be implemented by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to create a self-sustaining system of wave-dampening barriers intended to reduce storm damage.

“Addressing the flooding problem in Howard Beach is long overdue,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “A project like this cannot happen fast enough.”

Low and high level vegetated salt marshes, as well as dunes and elevated grasslands will be used to protect the community against future storm surges, similar to the floodwaters experienced during Sandy, and a rise in sea level.

About 765,000 cubic yards of material will be dug up across the site and reshaped into an elevated area, and 40,000 cubic yards of sand will be imported and spread across the site.

“I am most interested in the timeframe of this major project, since flood mitigation is a serious concern for my constituents, and the scope of this project is to ensure all parts of Howard Beach, inclusive of New and Old Howard, as well as Hamilton Beach,” Addabbo said.

Mitigation will be done along the eastern shore of Spring Creek on the north shore of Jamaica Bay. The site is bound by the Belt Parkway to the north and a series of roadways to the southeast, including 78th Street, 161st Avenue, 83rd Street, 165th Avenue and Cross Bay Boulevard. It comprises the western and southern perimeter of Howard Beach.

 

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Howard Beach storm survivors lend hand to Typhoon Haiyan victims


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

A local toy drive is going international.

Several medical practices from an area devastated by Sandy are collecting toys for children stateside and sending aid to those affected by the latest disaster in the Philippines.

Cross Bay Physical Therapy, Cross Bay Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation PC and Cross Bay Foot Center have partnered with Toys for Tots to revive the toy drive they have had in the past. This year, they are additionally collecting toiletries, canned foods, blankets and more for typhoon victims.

“We got hit with Sandy last year. We’ve been through a struggle,” said Dana Parker, manager of the three practices. “It’s another tragedy, and we have to help. We have to do something.”

Two of Parker’s employees have family in the Philippines, outside of th areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, who “know where to send the donations,” Parker said.

Parker said when the idea to pass donations along to the Philippines came about, the employees instantly jumped on board.

“They had a little bit of tears in their eyes,” she said. “Knowing what we went through last year, they were honored we even asked them to be the coordinators of collecting from the whole community.”

Donations started coming in on November 14 and will be collected through December 12. For the toy drive, donations should be new, unwrapped and in their original packing. The group said toys for children ages 2 and under and 12 to 13 are most in demand.

Visit the office at 157-02 Cross Bay Boulevard, Suite 202, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., or Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants can additionally enter a raffle to win an iPod when they donate.

“We’re going to come together,” Parker said.

 

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Retired FDNY lieutenant featured in documentary series highlighting ‘unsung heroes’


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Coyne PR

John Nolan, retired FDNY lieutenant, worked to rebuild homes in Sandy-devastated communities after the superstorm and became one of the area’s many “unsung heroes.”

Now, Shell Rotella, an engine oil organization, has highlighted Nolan and several others in a short-form documentary series, “Unsung Heroes,” that tells the stories of these overlooked saviors and how their work and lifestyles are intertwined.

Nolan’s nearly five-minute clip opens up with the firefighter-turned-contractor pulling up to Breezy Point’s fire zone, which was reduced from over 100 homes to just rubble.

He said the night of the storm, the 500 active firemen in the neighborhood tried to save whatever they could after floodwaters rose high and a blaze broke out, catching quickly.

“Early evening when the fire started, it went to high winds, homes were catching fire one right after the other,” he said.

A shift in the wind allowed the Fire Department to get water on the houses that hadn’t yet started burning, but even still, the day after “it was just massive destruction everywhere,” Nolan said. “The entire community needed help.”

He and others from the fire “brotherhood” worked through the summer to get the beach front community back on its feet.

“We came together as the Fire Department always does and did whatever we had to do to get the people back into their homes,” he said. “It seems like every day is a sense of urgency; there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

He continued, “In Queens, you don’t judge a guy by how tough he is, by how many guys he can knock down. You judge a guy by how many times he can get back up,” he said. “That’s the Rockaway, Breezy community. They’re a resilient group of people.”

Nolan’s story and the other “unsung heroes” can be seen on www.youtube.com/rotellaunsung.

“Working on a project like “Unsung” really opened my eyes to the men and women working tirelessly to keep this country moving,” said Geoffrey Campbell, producer of the documentaries. “I have a newfound gratitude for the many people who put in long hours and work hard in a truck each day.”

 

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Bill calls for storm fund tracking, accountability


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Donovan Richards

One Queens pol wants to track storm recovery funds, promote accountability and avoid any potential of fraud for people still recovering from Sandy.

A new bill introduced by Councilmember Donovan Richards will monitor where the billions of federal, state and local dollars for superstorm recovery are being spent.

“The tracking bill will ensure contractors who accept public money for Sandy work, disclose the wages they are paying and where they hire workers,” Richards said.

The bill received 36 co-sponsors in the City Council, giving it a veto-proof majority.

All contractors will be required to disclose everything from the wages they pay workers to the area from which they hire these workers. An online database will track where and how the funds are spent.

Federal recovery grants recently amounted to $1.34 billion, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently tacked on an additional $104 million to repair low-income housing, according to various media reports.

“It has been over a year since Sandy, and many families are still looking for support to rebuild their communities,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who supported the bill. “The funds the city is allocating need to be spent wisely, and creating an online database will ensure those who are most in need will receive it.”

 

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Pol asks AG to investigate Sandy contractor fraud


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Sandy brought a wave of fraudulent fixes to south Queens, and one elected official wants them wiped out.

Following the superstorm, many affected residents fell victim to fraudulent contractors who “promised to rebuild their homes, but have either left before completing the job or disappeared with [their] deposit without performing the necessary repairs,” said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder.

Goldfeder wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, requesting he “immediately investigate” and hold all out-of-state and local fraudulent contractors accountable.

“Residents who have spent their hard-earned money and savings to rebuild deserve to have the work done as promoted by their contractor,” Goldfeder said in his letter.

He said this is a “community-wide concern” in Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and Rockaway and many are “still struggling to finish repairs left from the storm damage.”

This October, Schneiderman prosecuted a Long Island based organization which “used deceptive practices in an attempt to obtain business from victims” of Sandy.

G.C. Environmental, Inc. of Bay Shore was fined $40,000 after mailing more than 2,000 letters resembling State Department of Environmental Conservation notices of violation to property owners who had suffered petroleum spills as a result of the storm, warning victims of an impending fine if they did not seek repairs.

Additionally, in July, Schneiderman filed lawsuits against four service stations in Kings, Nassau and Suffolk County Supreme Courts for gas price gouging following the storm. The attorney general’s office reached settlements with 25 stations, and additional investigations are pending.
Schneiderman’s office did not return a request for comment regarding Goldfeder’s letter.

“It is of paramount importance that we continue to help homeowners and revive our communities,” Goldfeder said.

 

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Cuomo announces $37M in projects to keep LaGuardia from flooding


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File photo

After Sandy forced LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to close last year for three days, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced $37.5 million in storm mitigation and resiliency projects to protect important infrastructure from future flooding.

“Sandy forced us to reevaluate how we prepare for and respond to major natural disasters in New York,” said Cuomo. “The question is not if another storm will hit, but when, and the state is doing everything it can to ensure that New York’s infrastructure is strong and durable when the time comes.”

Last year during Sandy, LGA’s airfield was flooded by more than 100 million gallons of water from Flushing Bay, causing the airport to cease commercial flight operations for three days. The surge flooded the five high-capacity pump houses which the airport depended on to drain any water.

The five projects announced by the governor include the installation of flood barrier raised banks around the West Field Lighting Vault, which houses runway and taxiway lighting systems, and construction of a concrete flood wall around the West End Substation that is key to powering the airfield systems.

The other projects feature construction of two gravity drains that will release storm water into Flushing Bay, replacement of existing generators with bigger and more efficient emergency back-up generators, and restoration of LGA’s monitoring and control system, to allow the airport to quickly monitor and deal with any issues with its electrical distribution system.

“Projects like these will significantly improve flood protection and electrical resiliency at LaGuardia and throughout the state,” said Cuomo. “New York State government is working every day to build back better than before.”

Federal funds are expected to cover $28.1 million of the total project costs.

 

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Church destroyed by Sandy is rededicated to Howard Beach


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

After Sandy destroyed their church, St. Barnabas wasn’t sure they would ever get back on their feet.

“Whenever there was a disaster, we’re the ones people come to,” said Debra Pignatelli, St. Barnabas official. “We couldn’t help anyone, we were totally devastated ourselves.”

The church sustained roughly five feet of water and the majority of its infrastructure was damaged, as well as tables, chairs and other items used for the many meetings held at the site.

The Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, civic groups, Sunday school-goers and Alcoholics Anonymous were some of the groups that had to find alternative meeting places, as the church was holding a limited number of events.

But, after $150,000 in repairs, $75,000 of that in electrical work, Pignatelli said the church is back to operating at about 80 percent, barring a kitchen makeover. All of the money came from private donors.

After the tireless community effort, the church was rededicated earlier this month to the parish and to Howard Beach.

“If you had asked me two months after the storm if we would be here now, in this place, with what we have and what people have gifted us, I would have never believed it, honestly,” Pignatelli said. “It has been pretty miraculous how people have stepped up.”

 

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Record numbers, heightened security at NYC Marathon


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of New York Road Runners

The safest place in the country may have been the route of the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday.

NYPD officers trolled the race, guarding runners and spectators alike, because of terrorism concerns caused by the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year, in which three people died and hundreds were injured.

A record 50,740 runners from around the world competed in this year’s ING Marathon, which was cancelled last year due to tremendous damage by Superstorm Sandy.

“My point of view is you can’t live like that,” said Joseph Gordon, a Queens Village resident who ran the marathon for the first time. “Living in New York it’s dangerous just to step outside my house. The NYRR [New York Road Runners] did a good job being careful and improving security.”

The marathon, which travels 26.2 miles around the five boroughs, featured more police officers along the course than previous years, some with bomb-sniffing dogs. Officers also checked spectators’ bags at certain locations, among various other reported counter-terrorism tactics.

As a result the race proceeded safely and featured fierce competition, dominated by Kenyan runners.

In the men’s race, Geoffrey Mutai defended his NYC Marathon 2011 crown with another win. He finished with an official time of 2:08:24. Priscah Jeptoo won the women’s division with a time of 2:25:07.

Gordon said the return of the race brings the city a little bit closer to normalcy.

“I think it’s really important to New York, the fact that it’s in all the boroughs and a lot of people were affected [by Sandy],” he said. “It’s not something that New York needs, but that the people of New York needed. It’s like a morale booster.”

 

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Bill could delay flood insurance hikes for Sandy victims


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Flood zone residents can rest easy for now ‑ as impending increases in flood insurance have been put on the backburner.

Congressmembers Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries co-sponsored the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Care Act of 2013, legislation meant to address the flood insurance rate increase and “keep residents from being priced out of our community,” Meeks said.

In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which would require the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to raise flood rates to reflect “true flood risk” for a policyholder, according to FEMA.

As a result of the act, residents said that over time, their rates could get as high as $30,000 a year. Rallies protesting the price hikes were held nationwide in September, including one at the Broad Channel American Legion Hall, which brought in hundreds of residents.

“We’d like to think we played a small role,” said Dan Mundy, Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association. “It’s a really important first step. We hope to maybe have some input on this.”

The insurance affordability act imposes a four-year delay for certain primary residences. It also mandates FEMA complete an affordability study, which will take two years.

The new bill also allows FEMA to reimburse policyholders who successfully appeal a map determination.
Meeks and Jeffries worked with over 80 other members of Congress to pass the act and “fix” the NFIP, he said.

He vows to work with colleagues “across the aisle” to ensure the bill is signed into law and successfully implemented.

“The painful devastation we experienced during Sandy brought us together to get this done, but it was the resilience and commitment to rebuilt from the people of Rockaway that served as inspiration to make it happen,” Meeks said.

 

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Political Roundup: De Blasio, Lhota face off in final debate


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

ROUNDUP

Mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota had their third and final debate Wednesday.

The debate was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was moved to last night in observance of the Sandy anniversary,

Questions about Sandy led off the debate, but the two once again battled over many of the same issues they did in the previous two debates, including education, crime and taxes.

A Quinnipiac University poll released the same day of the debate showed de Blasio still has as significant lead over Lhota in the race.

MORE HEADLINES

Former Mayor Dinkins hospitalized with ‘mild touch of pneumonia’: CBS New York

Adjusting the Moreland script, Cuomo goes to war with former Senate allies: Capital New York

City Council moving to take away speaker’s ‘pork’ power: New York Post

Senate blocks Obama picks for judge, housing posts: AP

Edward Snowden gets a job working in tech support for Russian website: lawyer: New York Daily News

 

Sandy firefighter heroes recognized on anniversary


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Maggie Hayes

One year ago they were in boats and swimming through floodwaters to rescue the residents of south Queens as it was battered by Sandy.

On the anniversary of the superstorm, Vetro by Russo’s on the Bay gathered the firefighter crews and recognized them for their bravery.

“Around 9:30 p.m. that night we got seven feet of water in the firehouse,” said Deputy Chief Andy Zych of the West Hamilton Beach Fire Department.

The department’s fire trucks, ambulances and equipment were ruined. So a neighbor lent the crew a fishing boat, and they got to paddling. Zych and a fellow firefighter rescued a woman, her mother and their two dogs from their flooding home and brought them to the firehouse.

“In a time like that, you don’t think. You just try and do the best you can,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Broad Channel, the local firehouse was also flooded with seven feet of water, but the crew set out into the night.

“On a regular, everyday basis, you don’t worry about anything else other than the task at hand,” said Deputy Chief Eddie Wilmarth. “But the majority of us live down here. You know as you’re grabbing people out of their houses, you know your own house is being destroyed.”

Before the storm, the Broad Channel Fire Department took a head count of everyone staying in town so they knew “who was where, and what they need,” Wilmarth said.

As the wind and rain pushed on, the floodwaters were too deep for trucks to drive through, so rescue swimmers were sent out to respond to a fire that broke out on a flood-prone street. The current was too strong for them to make it, so they swung ropes around poles to pull themselves across the intersection.

In the end, the flood put out the fire.

“We were on our own. We were the only ones operating,” Wilmarth said.

The Broad Channel department also lost all of its trucks and ambulances. But, as Wilmarth said, “the fire world is a big brotherhood,” and all of the storm-affected firehouses received equipment from all over the country.

West Hamilton Beach received a fire truck from a crew in Mississippi, who had been given that same truck after Hurricane Katrina.

Both fire crews and others in the area are back up and running, but say they’re still not back to 100 percent. Even still, they were back responding to calls just days after Sandy.

“If anything happens, we will be there,” Zych said.

 

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Sandy: Looking back on a year


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Top photo by Melissa Chan/Bottom photo by Alexa Altman

October 29, 2012—the day Sandy reared her ugly head and barreled through, leaving a swath of destruction in her wake.

In this week’s issue and online, The Courier has brought you tales of rebuilding, tales of resiliency – and stories of a borough that is bouncing back.

Here’s a recap of the stories:

 

PHOTOS: Sandy Then & Now


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Sandy Then and Now

THEN

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

NOW

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

THEN

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

NOW

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

THEN

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

NOW

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

THEN

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

NOW

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

 

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Chelsea Clinton helps with Sandy recovery during ‘Day of Action’ in the Rockaways


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of the Clinton Foundation

The Clintons joined the ongoing Sandy recovery in a “Day of Action” in the Rockaways.

Chelsea Clinton and hundreds of volunteers visited Brookville Park, Rockaway Park, P.S. 197 and homes in Far Rockaway on Saturday to revitalize the damaged communities. This is the fifth Day of Action, which has brought in volunteers from all over the country to give back to their own communities.

Clinton also participated in the St. Bernard Project to break ground on the future site of the first “Resilient House.”

The former first daughter joined the home’s future owners, the Lyons family, at the event.

The Resilient House will be designed by Sustainable TO Architecture + Building and is modeled to be energy efficient, cost effective and able to withstand future disasters.

 

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