Near Riot Tonight in Hurricane-Devastated Broad Channel Over Slow Response From Relief Agencies


Two days after Hurricane Sandy, the situation in the storm-stricken Rockaways and other southern Queens neighborhoods is getting worse in terms of the need for basic supplies and aid. Anger is growing that the government relief agencies have been slow to deal with the problems.

Tonight, in Broad Channel, a sliver of land on Jamaica Bay which was hammered by the hurricane, there was a near riot when 280 people arrived for a much anticipated meeting with FEMA representatives, but the reps didn’t show up. That caused already frayed tempers to boil over, and residents blocked traffic to vent their anger.

“It’s fair to say there’s a very high level of frustration,” says Dan Mundy, a longtime resident of Broad Channel and a battalion chief with the FDNY. “It got ugly for a couple of minutes. People blocking traffic. We had the meeting in a pitch black parking lot and were able to calm them down.”

There’s a growing sentiment in Broad Channel and the Rockaways that the National Guard, FEMA and the city Office of Emergency Management should have been on the ground much faster than they have been with supplies, ready to provide aid. Some people are concerned that OEM is turning to nonprofits to supply aid, which is seen as slowing the process.

“People are saying, there’s no National Guard, no Red Cross, no FEMA, they were elsewhere, but they weren’t here,” Mundy says. “This is a long term thing. They say 4 to 5 days for the power, but I think it’ll be 7 to 10, and then you have to check it’s safe, and then deal with the oil burners and the structural damage. Right now, we need a FEMA tent, food, hot showers.”

As it stands, the food has or is spoiling right now, there are no places to buy food, people are wet and cold, and they have no heat. Residents have had to rely on each other, on makeshift kitchens, a borrowed sandwich or two, and a neighbor’s floor to sleep on. A deli owner in Broad Channel gave away his food rather than see it go bad.

Calls are flowing in to elected officials, who are hardly equipped to solve problems and at pains to supply answers until the big relief agencies get in gear.

“People are hungry, if not starving,” a person familiar with the concerns says. “People are saying, we haven’t eaten in two days. This is Zone A, and they knew the gravity of the situation well beforehand. They should have been prepared. It just seems that no one has really taken the initiative on this, and left it up to the pols, but it shouldn’t be like that at this point.”

Meanwhile, a series of evacuations has created confusion and stress for families searching for elderly people moved today from their homes to temporary sites scattered around the city.

In addition, reports of burglaries, break-ins and looting in the Rockaway continue to grow. There have been scattered fistfights. Shots were fired yesterday at people trying to break into a sneaker store. It was unclear if anyone was hit. People pretending to be representatives of FEMA have been breaking into unoccupied homes.

Back in Broad Channel, the word is there will be another try at a FEMA meeting tomorrow afternoon.

“I drove from here to Rockaways today and there are lots with two feet of sand covered with fuel oil, people walking down the street in their same clothes,” Mundy says. “It’s like ‘Dawn of the Dead.’ You see people crying left and right.”