I spent the day on the Rockaways and in Breezypoint with the Yesmen. I’ve been in a lovely Williamsburg bubble since the storm, but today I saw some of the real impact. On the way to the shore, the lines to the few gas stations that had fuel were miles long and confounding traffic in all directions. Police were involved to direct traffic, but also to help control the volatile tempers. People had been waiting in parked cars for several hours on a rumor that gas would arrive at the station soon.
Once we got to breezy point, literally hundreds of houses – people’s homes- were collapsed or torqued beyond recognition. The water wrenched them from their cinderblock foundations and floated them yards –or even as much as a block- away. Sometimes they landed on other homes, or on porches or on cars. Hundreds of two story houses burned to their cinderblock foundations, presumably from ignited gaslines that ripped open during the storm. The absolute only remaining materials from a lifetime in these structures were those things made of steel or cement. (It smelled like VCU’s foundry when we were doing a Styrofoam burnout – melted metal and burnt wood and dirt and lots of toxic.) On the houses closest to the ones that burnt, stripes of aluminum siding melted and sagged into droopy sashes. Someone wrote “the Rockaways will survive” in the soot on the side of a pick-up truck.
Further west, there are blocks and blocks and blocks where everything people owned is piled up on the sidewalk in 5 foot high mounds of broken,wet rubbish. A dirty waterline smudges their houses at least 4 feet off the ground. Formerly grassy yards have 2 feet of sand on them. Along the beach the whole boardwalk was ripped off the cement pylons during the storm and the planks have since been bulldozed into gigantic, building-high piles. The pylons remain, lined up for a mile in either direction. It’s a Planet of the Apes kind of landscape. Walking across a beachside cement handball court is like jumping across boulders in a stream – the landscape drops and rises with such variation; it has nothing to do with flat. And giant clams – as big as the entirety of my open hand – litter the beach.
There are at least two huge condominiums full of many old people with no power and no elevator and the stores nearby are all out of everything anyway. And the subway isn’t going anywhere near here for some time. Thankfully, Occupy has set up several support stations and are distributing dried goods and clothes and batteries. Greenpeace has a mobile solar-powered station set up, where they’re providing hot meals and blankets, paper towels and toilet paper. We helped unload a few truckfuls of donations from endlessly generous New Yorkers, which was amazing. And the people on the receiving end were so completely grateful – desperately in need of batteries and candles and blankets. The temperature dropped after the storm, and they’ve got no heat in those buildings.
I don’t have a tv. Is this on the news?
I’m going to be at Wayfarers tomorrow and Sunday, 12-6. If you want to bring blankets (new ones only - there is a well-founded concern about bedbugs), batteries, or candles, Monday morning I’ll take them directly to the supply stations, or the condo where the old folks needed stuff. Pretty sure I have enough gas to get there and back, but hopefully the fuel situation will improve by then.
p.s. Photos don’t do it. I’ve seen lots of them, but too much is lost in the scale shift. This video gets at it a little; that swaying thing acting like a plumb bob in the background – the only true vertical in sight - is the chandelier in someone’s now splayed open living room.