As a journalist who was in New York City when Hurricane Sandy hit, I went back at the end of March to see how Breezy Point, Queens, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods, was doing after the storm destroyed an entire part of the seaside neighborhood last October.
When the giant wall of rushing sea water hit the houses, an electrical fire started. It spread to over 100 houses, burning them to ground.
Due to the high flood levels at the time, local firefighters couldn’t reach Ocean Avenue where the fire was reported to have started until after the water receded.
Upon arrival, several blocks of houses were on fire. A total of 111 homes burnt to the ground. Twenty nearby homes were damaged by the flames. Most homes and bungalows had serious flooding, and residents lost everything in their basements. Hundreds of vehicles were destroyed.
The neighborhood had been in the news over the months, featuring stories about the devastation, and the efforts to clean up the damage and rebuild the community.
When I arrived five months later, houses were still standing, but were left ravaged by fire and flood water. All that remained of the homes closest to the seashore where the fire started was cement frames in the sand, and vast open beach, leading to the sea.
The weather was beautiful, the day I arrived. The sky was bright, clear and blue. It stretched for miles in every direction. It was easy to see why the location was such a popular destination for people from Brooklyn and New York City, the people who owned permanent and part-time residences.
I spoke with one resident involved with the clean up effort. His house is situated right where the fire stopped. The paint on his house melted off, and his large front bay window cracked and threatened to collapse. Ambers from the fire had seared holes into his wooden deck.
Because all the houses in front of his burned to the ground, he now had a beautiful view of the ocean about a mile away. He explained that the hurricane and damages were still the major topic of conversation with residents in the neighborhood. He said that as a tight community, people were still grappling with what happened to their homes.
When I spoke to him before leaving Ottawa a week before, his voice was laden with emotion as he described what happened and efforts to get their lives back in order.
When we met in Breezy Point the following Saturday, he spoke about what happened like a man who was still reeling, as though the storm happened only yesterday, and he, victim to the forces of nature, was trying to make sense of it all.
I am putting together a multimedia piece on my visit to Breezy Point which includes a short video documentary, a magazine-style piece, and photographs taken while there. Here is a preview of some of the video I took and the interview with the resident.
Breezy Point is a symbol for what is becoming more and more apparent each day, month and year. It is the forces of climate change, its effects and how it has devastating results on the psyche of communities, not to mention the billions of dollars in damages.
*The first, third, fourth and fifth photo was taken by Robin Grant. So was the video. All rights reserved.