The weather was cold, damp and raw in the Rockaways on Saturday morning, as more than a hundred residents gathered on the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 112th Street, anxious to start marching.
But there was a hitch. “113th Street, 114th Street, 115th Street, 116th Street, the police have deemed them all all unsafe for our parade route,” an organizer told the crowd. “130th street and 131st Street are also unsafe. So follow the march, and pick a safe road when you leave the beach.”
Nearly three months after Sandy hit, this is how things are going in the Rockaways. Even when residents want to demonstrate to call attention to their ongoing plight, city streets remain too damaged for a straightforward parade route. Roadways are still full of rubble, sidewalks buckled and canted at crazed angles, charred wreckage still fills the blocks where buildings burned during the storm.
And as has been true ever since Sandy hit, the visible damage doesn’t begin to tell the full tale of the human suffering brought by the storm. In storm-soaked basements across the peninsula, dangerous mold is blooming and spreading. Many residents remain without power. The Long Island Power Authority officials announced last week that some 2,300 meters in the Rockaways are still without power, the bulk of them in the low-income neighborhood of Arverne.
And as the suffering persists, legislators have yet to approve a comprehensive Sandy relief package.
“Months after the landfall of Hurricane Sandy, congress has failed to uphold its end of the deal,” said Peter Corless, a Rockaways resident who organized the “Walk a Mile in Our Shoes” event Saturday. “Instead, congress has rendered our region into a political football, and held our citizens as virtual hostages during the run-up to the fiscal cliff.”
The Walk a Mile demonstration drew participants from the eastern reaches of Far Rockaway, Averne, Rockaway Beach, and Belle Harbor, and there was much talk of peninsula-wide Rockaway solidarity.
Sandra Wilson, a resident of Bay Towers at Beach 98th Street, said she shared the march’s goals: “I want people outside of the Rockaways to see that this isn’t over,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. You can’t just say ‘We’re going to help you!’ and then leave.”
But Wilson also warned that the fellow-feeling on display runs shallow. “You see this togetherness right now, but it’s not usually like this,” she said. “Usually [residents of western Rockaways] ask what we’re doing in their neighborhood.”
The rally drew local politicians as well. State Senators Joe Addabbo and Malcolm Smith were on hand, as was Congressman Gregory Meeks.
Smith told the Voice he’s been assured by Congressman Peter King that congress will pass a substantial Sandy aid package soon, but even once that money finds its way to New York state, it will still be a struggle to make sure it is allocated to the places that need it most.
With so many problems plaguing the Rockaways — from toxic mold to chronic high unemployment — figuring out how best to allocate relief money will be complicated. But for now, residents just want to know the money’s coming.
“Congress just needs to do its job,” Corless said. “It’s that simple.”