by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Nov 15, 2012
Eat, warm up, clean up: more than two weeks after superstorm Sandy, thousands of people in a remote New York City beach community are struggling just for the basics.
From 10:00 am in Far Rockaway, there was already a long line of people waiting patiently outside the library for overcoats promised by a charity at midday. Two other lines had formed in front of a nearby church.
One was for hot food, the other for daily needs like cleaning liquids, batteries, diapers, brooms and water bottles. Volunteers stood by, offering advice on how to apply for all manner of other aid.
The Rockaway neighborhood is in Queens, part of New York City, but since Sandy struck with huge floods and hurricane-strength winds on October 29, it can feel like somewhere in another, poorer country.
Sandy knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people and damaged or destroyed many homes through flooding. But while most of the New York area has gotten back on its feet, Rockaway is still crawling.
Everywhere in the modest community south of John F. Kennedy International Airport it's the same story: long lines of people needing help from churches, federal aid offices, and a multitude of charities.
Many people come with shopping carts that they fill up with everything they can collect, then walk slowly away.
"Do you have a heater? I need a heater," asked Kiomara Espaillat, a retired woman with a missing leg who was waiting in her wheelchair for an overcoat. She said she lives alone in her apartment, still without heat or light, or even a phone.
"Nobody is telling us anything," she complained.
Bilma, a 28-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, was in line with her four-month-old baby. She also didn't have electricity.
"They said maybe tomorrow. It's very difficult," she said.
Some said they'd been helped initially by friends or family, but as time dragged on that became impossible.
"It's finished," said Alba Hernandez, an immigrant from Nicaragua lining up for food outside the church for the first time.
The 16 days that have passed since Sandy seemed like an eternity for many.
On Beach Channel Drive, Linda Di Cenio was distraught over her small home, bought just last June. There was still water oozing from the floor.
Like her neighbors, she'd emptied her belongings out onto the sidewalk in an attempt to dry them in the increasingly cold air. She said she had no insurance.
"I don't know where to go, I cannot sleep," she said.
Nearby, volunteers had set up distribution of clean socks and towels in the garden of another house.
Cecilia, 35, who had two teenage children, was happy to get a free dressing gown.
"I am so cold at home. My landlord says she has to change the boiler but she has no money. She has no idea when it will be done," she said, adding that she had to boil water to be able to wash.
"If we don't laugh we cry," Cecilia said.
At another corner, there were abandoned apartments with doors off their hinges and waterlines showing the flooding had reached more than three feet (one meter) high.
Inside, there was a children's shoe, a pile of clothing, toys, and sand. The renters apparently never returned.
Along the beach, bulldozers pushed back the sand that piled up in the streets. Parked cars were still covered with sand, while further along, on a main street, there was a wrecked boat.
Police officers stood at some crossroads to direct traffic where there were no lights. Most stores were still closed.
On the west side of the peninsula, on Rockaway Beach boulevard, the noise of generators used to supply electricity was deafening. There was an impromptu clinic in a house still smelling of damp.
In front, the scorched ruins of houses destroyed in a blaze at the height of the hurricane were being razed. Passersby wore hospital masks to avoid breathing the dust.
Janina Joniec, 82, looked out on the scene while sweeping her staircase. She was covered in bruises, the result of falling down unlit stairs.
"Look, my son says I look like a zombie," she said.
The skyscrapers of Manhattan were barely visible off in the distance.
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