CONEY ISLAND — Devastated residents and small business owners ravaged by Hurricane Sandy have been picking up the pieces in the aftermath — but have still have found it in their hearts to deliver basic essentials to help their neighbors survive.
Days after the storm ripped through the neighborhood, leaving behind a swath of debris and garbage on the streets, high-rise buildings completely in the dark, and residents scrambling for food and water — locals struggling with their own challenges came together over the weekend to make sure their neighbors were okay.
Jimmy Kokotas, 40, one of the few restaurant owners who has been able to keep his place open, has served free food to hungry residents in the area.
"We served 500 cups of oatmeal to people at the park," Kokotas said. "We're happy to be a part of it."
Agencies from national and local governments chipped in, too. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had thousands of registrations for people in need.
On Saturday, FEMA filed 3,300 registrations in Brooklyn, bringing the total in the borough to more than 18,300 since the recovery began. Mobile disaster recovery centers in Coney Island encouraged people without phone or Internet service to register in person.
"The sooner they register, the sooner we'll be able to get them money and supplies," said William Rukeyser, a FEMA spokesman. "Generally in the wake of a disaster, money is what they need most."
City workers and members of the National Guard, among other government workers, helped distribute supplies and clothes to needy residents over the weekend.
Kokotas, meanwhile, defended the the government's response since the hurricane.
"It's easy to criticize," he said. "Instead of criticizing, if everybody did just a little bit, we'd get this done."
The cleanup and recovery effort was daunting. Battered Coney Island residents said Sandy was the worst storm to hit the area in more than 50 years.
"I was here for Hurricane Donna in 1960," said Charles Denson, 59, the executive director of the Coney Island History Project, a small museum off the boardwalk, and a neighborhood historian. "The streets were flooded, but there was nothing [like] this surge."
The situation hasn't been this bad in Coney Island since the 1830s, Denson added, when the area was ravaged by fires and storms.
"Coney Island has always had massive fires," he said. "It's been shaped by fires, storms...and it's always come back."
Steven Calco, a library assistant who lives in Bensonhurst, was on the boardwalk sweeping in front of the Wonder Wheel. The cleanup effort, organized by the Coney Island Dancers, focused on, among other things, handing out brooms and clearing the sand that flowed in from the beach.
"I think it's great everyone's been pitching in and helping out," he said. "I hope we continue to do so and it's back to normal soon."