My Day at the Far Rockaways and the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy Destruction – by Ron J. Berard

Ron J BerardRon J. Berard is a photojournalist based in New York City. He has been photographing professionally since 1975. Until 1998 he specialized in sports photography but after moving to New York City that same year, began accepting feature story assignments. To date he has three books published (The Cajuns of Today, It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, High Dynamic New York) and one pending on Cajun Musicians. He also staffed at three major newspapers in the 80s and 90s. The Dallas Times Herald,, The Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune, where he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 (along with reporter Nanette Holland) for an environmental story on The Gulf of Mexico. Berard has also won numerous awards from the NPPA. His work has also been published in TIME, Nat Geo, The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Major League Baseball and Louisiana Life. Ron is a 1974 graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now U.L.L. Ragin Cajuns) where he received a BA in Architecture. Today he is a contributing photographer for The Metropolitan Opera House and Lincoln Center. Married with two grown children, he and his wife Michelle lives in Manhattan.
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While our American flag flies proudly, most of beachfront block of homes face considerable damage from Hurricane Sandy in the Far Rockaways.

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.

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Army sergeant Hiram Figuero of Queens walks on one of many broken down sections of the Far Rockaway Beach boardwalk.

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One of three or four larger business of downtown Rockaway Beach destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. In the Far Rockaways.

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Survived painting of Babe Ruth while most of beach front home is flattened. In Far Rockaways.

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.

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This beachfront home and two vehicles (including this Porche) were damaged beyond repair. At the Far Rockaways

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Another beautiful beach front home that was partially torn apart. Most of this wood will have to be thrown away and reconstruction of the property will begin as soon as inspection is passed.

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I like this pic. Only one section of this beachfront home remains intact as the rest is just blown down to the ground (including the swimming pool.)

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.

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Volunteers with NYC Service direct a lady to perishable items. At the Far Rockaways.

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A FEMA inspector checking on the condition of this beachfront home in the Far Rockaways.

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