I lived here once before. Near 116th Beach Street, to be exact. I remember thinking how cool it was that I could take ten steps left from my apartment door before feeling the soft, warm sand under my feet. During the Spring semester (while I was attending college), I found pleasure in grabbing a beach towel and my spiral notebook and lie down on the sand with the sun beating on my face. I would study math problems or read from a literary textbook for an upcoming test. I took pleasure in this little bubble of peace that Rockaway Beach provided.
Rockaway Beach felt like a separate town compared to the rest of New York City. It had a separate vibe. Everyone was cool and relaxed. The elders walked their dogs on the boardwalk, younger people were jogging, parents were pushing their infants in a stroller, and the surfers were out in groups trying to catch a wave. It was nice. Little did I know this would be a short-lived experience due to an imminent hurricane that would flip my life upside down.
I didn't know it then, but my life was about to change for the worst. I turned on my television one morning and heard a news reporter from Pix11 mention that a major hurricane was heading toward New York City. Residents were told to board their windows and secure their property to mitigate possible damages. Residents near Rockaway & Far Rockaway (located in Queens & Brooklyn boroughs) were told to evacuate the area if possible.
"Hurricane Sandy" is what The World Meteorological Organization named it. I had to Google that information because, like many, I didn't know who named hurricanes. I imagined it was some "randos" who threw darts at a board filled with names. I mean really, what is the process? I also thought the name "Hurricane Sandy" was a little ironic, me living next to the beach and all. Anyhow because of the close proximity my building was to Rockaway Beach, we were advised to leave. Our area was designated as "Evacuation Zone A." However, many residents, including myself, chose to stay.
Superstorm Sandy: Evacuation Zone "A"
Hurricane Sandy at Rockaway Beach in Queens, NY
Like a surfer on a typical day at Rockaway Beach, we decided to ride out the waves of Hurricane Sandy. We decided we would not seek shelter elsewhere but stay in our homes, secure and board up as much as possible. Maybe it wasn't a brilliant idea, but it sure as hell felt like it at the time. I do not have much recollection of the actual storm of Hurricane Sandy.
I remember being just a bit nervous as I hid in my closet throughout the night. I thought to myself, this Hurricane may not be all that it's hyped up to be. After all, I was storm-chasing Hurricane Irene (another Hurricane that hit NYC) in Brooklyn, and it wasn't that bad. The Hurricane took place late at night.
I had slept through most of it but was constantly awakened by the loud banging noise of objects hitting the side of the house. At 7:00 a.m. I woke up thinking once again the media had exaggerated the storm. Then I walked outside, and it looked like a bomb had gone off.
A Car rest ontop of each other after Hurricane Sandy aftermath.
After hearing the loud noises of the storm, and feeling the walls shake slightly, Hurricane Sandy went as fast as it had came. However, more damage was done than I imagined. One of the first things I noticed as I stepped outside my apartment, was the amount of mud all over the sidewalk and street. I mean there was mud all over the place.
As i was processing the damage Hurricane Sandy had left, I discovered a large portion of the house, the bottom foundation, was missing. This damage made the entire unit inhabitable and I would soon have to move elsewhere. I knew this before the NYPD actually placed yellow caution tape around my home and several of my neighbors. I continued to walk further outside of my own community to explore the damages left behind.
A gas station exploded, cars were flipped upside down ontop of other cars and a boat made its way into the middle of the city streets. I saw windows of convenient stores shattered to pieces, metal poles bent blocking the side walk and more cars resting ontop of each other and destroyed.
I decided to walk back home when there was nothing left to look at. I turned on the television to see how the rest of New York City was affected by the storm. Individual homes were hit hard and subway stations were flooded. It took approximately a week before certain subway stations were operational again. Not wanting to inconvenience my friends or family I was temporarily placed in shelter setup at a high school somewhere in Queens, NY.
Queens High School & College Shelter
I packed essential things I could carry in my backpack. For some reason, I was reminded of a text we were reading in English class titled "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. The text was about the many essential items and mental baggage soldiers carried in the field. I saw it fitting my current situation to some degree. I packed my laptop, socks, a few pair of pants & shirts, boxer shorts, and personal hygiene items (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, disposable razors, etc.). I also carried my college textbooks with me.
I was escorted into the high school's gymnasium, where 4 - 5 rows of camping cots were set up. As I scoped around the gym, I saw many older people sleeping on their cots, eating Saran-wrapped bologna and cheese sandwiches, and drinking milk. I was situated at the high school for a few days. I was optimistic about my situation because, for one, I had a job, I was attending school, and I was also involved in a work-study program.
Over the course of two to three days, I laid on my cot studying or watching old black and white films on my laptop when I wasn't working. "Some Like It Hot" featuring Marilyn Monroe was one of my favorite films. I was told long ago that I'm living "before my time" or that I'm "young with an old soul." This was said because of my love for black and white films, and I occasionally wore suits and trench coats. I wandered about the unfamiliar Queens area when I wasn't busy with schoolwork.
A few FEMA agents came in one day with an assortment of items, such as socks, hygiene items, and bags of sandwiches. I was grateful for their help, but not everyone felt the same way. I recalled this one guy particularly getting upset because FEMA ran out of white socks and only had black ones left. He snatched the black socks from the staff and rolled his eyes as he walked away, mumbling about how he wanted white socks. I shook my head, thinking, "Dude, you're getting these items for free! Be grateful!".
I was transferred from the high school gymnasium to Queens College, where camping cots were also set up in the lobby area. The National Guards were at this facility, among other personnel who assisted us. It was much better than staying at the high school and much more comfortable. The National Guards provided bottled water and MREs.
MRE (Meal Ready-To-Eat) are packaged meals with long shelf life and were typically eaten by US military soldiers. Eating one of these meals was quite the experience. The package usually included a napkin, salt & pepper packets, drink mix, chewing gum, spoon & fork, peanut butter & crackers, the main course, and a flameless ration heater that would heat the food. Depending on the FRH, the food would be lukewarm or very hot. I only found out this mechanism existed when I was given an this meal.
MRE meals were given to Hurricane Sandy victims that lost their homes.
I was transferred into a Holiday Inn hotel in Midtown Manhattan on 585 8th Avenue. This hotel would later house homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic. FEMA and the Red Cross placed us into categories of who was most likely to get back on their feet. While others and myself were transferred to nice hotels, some people were sent to buildings near the housing projects. A few of us discussed this as we were being loaded onto the yellow buses.
My time at the Holiday Inn went by fast and progressively. After staying there for a few weeks, I managed to find another student to room-share with and moved out of the hotel. Sporadically, NYPD would allow me to get some of my stuff from my old apartment, but I had to be quick. I lost a few items during Hurricane Sandy, such as new clothes and valuable documents, but my life returned to normal after a two months of being displaced. I finished my semester making honors and was placed on the Dean's List.
I was so proud of myself, and so were my school's faculty. A few years later, I would move back into Rockaway Beach (near Beach 97th St.) Everything had remained the same. The people, the vibes, the community. Superstorm Hurricane Sandy was an experience for me. An unpleasant one, but that's all it will ever be.