Rockaways Decimated by Hurricane Sandy's Floods and Fires

By Nigel Chiwaya on October 30, 2012 3:54pm | Updated on October 30, 2012 9:49pm

QUEENS — Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Rockaways with full force Monday night, causing widespread flooding and power outages that have crippled the waterfront neighborhoods and turned parts of the peninsula into a wasteland.

Thousands of customers were left without power after the monster storm, and more than 80 homes were destroyed by a raging fire in Breezy Point.

Mike Lopes, a spokesperson for City Councilman James Sanders Jr., some 40,000 customers were left in the dark. In addition, Lopes said that there is widespread flooding from Beach 80th Street all the way into Arverne and Far Rockaway.

"Almost every basement is flooded," Lopes said. "It's a bad situation for sure."

But Lopes said it was difficult to get a full assessment on the damage right now because no one is allowed into the area, and that Sanders is only in the area because he lives there.

"We can't get there. No one can get to Zone A at the moment," Lopes said.

In Breezy Point, more than 80 flooded homes were destroyed by a six-alarm blaze that took more than 200 firefighters hours to get under control. The boardwalk also sustained major damage.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the devastation looked like "a forest fire out in the Midwest."

“We are hoping and praying that there was no loss of life in those fires," he said. "We know that many people have lost their homes, and I want them to know that they have our full support in the days and weeks ahead.”

Search and rescue operations were continuing Tuesday afternoon.

Congressman Robert Turner was among the Breezy Point residents to lose their homes in the blaze.

"I, along with many other Breezy Point residents, lost our homes last night, and I am grateful that my family and I are safe after this destructive storm," Turner said in a statement.

"I hope you will join me in lending a hand to those who were less fortunate and keep everyone impacted by this storm in your thoughts and prayers."

In Howard Beach, at Cross Bay Boulevard and 157th Avenue, large, camouflage-colored National Guard military vehicles lined the dark street Tuesday night.

Street and traffic lights were out as agents directed heavy truck traffic in the area. National Guard troops said they were there to patrol darkened streets and to help rescue seniors who may have been trapped in nursing homes.

One man stopped a National Guardsman to tell him about looting he had witnessed in Rockaway Beach.

"It's bad out there, and the police ain't doing enough," he said as he idled in an intersection with a non-working traffic light.

"We are doing patrols as we speak," the National Guardsman said.

Along Cross Bay Boulevard, Karla Pzielinski, 17, and Nicole Kopczynska, 16, both students at Metropolitan High School, and Brittany Lewonka, 17, a student at John Adams High School, said they were taking a walk to escape the boredom of being in a house without electricity.

"It's terrifying," Pzielinski said of seeing the dozens of military vehicles lining the street.

Her house was completely flooded, she said, and her family was staying with relatives.

"[The National Guardsmen] are supposed to make you feel safe, but it makes you realize how bad things are," added Kopczynska.

Lewonka, who said her family lived in a house her grandfather built at least 50 years ago, said her family marveled at the strength of Hurricane Sandy. In the storm's aftermath, giant trees were in the street and power lines were everywhere, she said.

"We've never seen a storm like this. The water went down the avenue like a river and just filled the streets," said Lewonka. "Some blocks, you can't even get down them."

The teens agreed that Hurricane Irene, which caused much less damage than expected last year, made people apathetic about Hurricane Sandy, which metoroligists said would be much stronger than Irene.

"For Irene, people boarded up their windows, taped everything down, and there was just a little bit of flooding so they felt like it was for nothing," said Lewonka.

No one will make that mistake for another generation, Kopczynska said.

"Next time, people are going to be prepared," she said.

Aswini Mangadu, 24, a student at City College, was also walking down Cross Bay Boulevard with Gaya Thri, 24, a researcher and Ankita Anand, 22, and Poojiha Mantena, 24 students at NYU Polytechnic, trying to figure out why the military vehicles were there.

"It was scary to walk around the area with no one around," said Mangadu.

Thri said she felt the response to Hurricane Sandy has been good.

"The government handled it well. They prepped us, gave us a lot of apps and other places to get information from," she said.

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