I remember taking the A train to the Rockaways during the summer months a few years ago. My wife and I try to make it to Montauck in Long Island in August but cant always get there so we took the subway over Jamaica Bay into this beautiful gem of a beach town. Great people but even better was the great views of all the beautiful summer homes. You can also take your pick of walking along the coast via boardwalk or plenty of spacious sand. We felt as though time had slowed to a crawl and we took our time walking, thinking about what to do and where to go next. It was a perfect lackadaisical kind of place.
Fast forward to Hurricane Sandy. Growing up in the deep south (Louisiana) I’ve had my share of being in the middle of dangerous hurricanes. In the summer of 1969 I was in my second year of college and found myself working during the summer months on a dredgeboat of the intercoastal sounds of Biloxi, Mississippi. I was only one week away from ending my summer work to go back to school for upcoming fall semester when Hurricane Camille blew through the Gulfport-Biloxi Mississippi Coast at 220 mph. If there was such a thing as a “Category 6” hurricane, this one was it! Camille roared in around midnight on a Sunday and the roar lasted some two to three hours. The next morning we walked through the town and could not believe what we were seeing. The sights from there are still vivid today in my mind. Ive also been in a dozen or so other category 3 & 4 storms. Camille was the worst by far. That includes Andrew and Katrina.
When Sandy came through the NYC area a few weeks ago, I wasn’t all that concerned because I really didn’t understand the dealings of what people here in the northeast call the “Perfect Storm.” We live in upper Manhattan and not only did we just experience mild wind and rain and mostly leaves and branches on our streets, we didn’t even lose power. So I did not believe for one second that it could be as bad as the reports were down in coastal Jersey and Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.
Last Monday I boarded a ferry from Pier 11 early in the morning for a 45 minute ride to the Rockaways. Biloxi and Hurricane Camille came storming back to me as I came head to head with the devastation. It is massive in its scope, from the huge 5 mile long boardwalk that more resembles a rollercoaster track than a boardwalk, to the shoulder to shoulder beautiful “mansions” that have collapsed and sprayed debris all over the beachhead. Soon after I saw the initial demolition of Rockaway Island I began to notice the beauty that was still there. I know it’s been two weeks since the storm hit and there are a number of residents that are seeing the power restoration to their partially damaged homes while cleaning up their property. But these are homes just inland from the beachfront. The beachfront homes and that whole area along the coast are vacant as can be. Partially beautiful homes void of residents and neighbors, just media and some security officials also getting personal photos.
One of the first devastated homes I saw had a swimming pool in the rear and it was still intact. That’s when I realized that there was still beauty amongst this horrible disaster. I saw it in the reflection of the barely erect home from its swimming pool. Many of the homes that were flattened are backed by their neighbors homes still intact and as beautiful as can be. So I guess I then tried to capture some of the beauty I could see alongside and sometimes right in the middle of this catastrophe.
It will take 6 months to a year to repair the Rockaways and bring it back probably better than ever. The locals are betting on it and they will win because there is another similarity between what happened here in the northeast and hurricanes of the south. The will of the residents to bring it back because to them it’s the best place in the world to live.