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Macaulay Honors College Students Volunteer in Sandy-Stricken Broad Channel

On Monday, January 7, a few of my fellow students at Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College came down to Jamaica Bay in Queens to help provide aide to those who still desperately need it in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Jonathan Farrell (Class of 2015), Jenna Peet (Class of 2014), Joseph Valerio (Class of 2015), and a good friend from the Brooklyn College Newman Catholic Club, Louie DiMeglio, joined me on a trip into Broad Channel, often referred to as “NYC’s Forgotten Town.” On our way towards the main area of the small bayside town, we passed by many people who were still in the process of gutting and cleaning out their homes. Many, many people have still not received the monetary aid they need to begin renovations and/or the reconstruction of their homes, so the situation is still quite grim in most Zone A and Zone B areas.

A sign made by a Broad Channel resident a few days after Sandy hit. It was propped up near the bottom of the bridge to Rockaway for over a month (until the town was finally cleared of major debris like washed-up boats and flipped over cars).

A sign made by a Broad Channel resident a few days after Sandy hit. It was propped up near the bottom of the bridge to Rockaway for over a month (until the town was finally cleared of major debris like washed-up boats and flipped over cars).

 

The main place that our Macaulay Relief Team volunteered at was St. Virgilius RC Church on Noel Road. St. Virgilius (along with its sister parish, St. Camillus, in Belle Harbor, Rockaway) is one of the hardest hit parishes in all of the five boroughs, so it very much needed the help that our team provided it with. Not only is it the only RC church on the island, but it also serves as a community center to visitors from all across the five boroughs. (I actually wrote an article in the Queens Chronicle last year about the newly-renovated community center at St. Virigilius. That center is now almost completely destroyed, and it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. You can read the article HERE.)

National Guard and Red Cross volunteer teams had already been through the church and ripped out all of the carpeting, pews and walls (up to about four feet). Our work mainly consisted of washing pews with anti-mold and anti-bacterial wipes, disinfecting moldy walls, wooden draws and furniture, organizing the choir loft, altar and backyard of the church (places where many things were quickly moved to when the flood waters were on the rise), and removing old carpeting and broken wooden panels. Needless to say, it was a very busy day.

The current state of the floors and walls at St. Virgilius.

The current state of the floors and walls at St. Virgilius.

 

Since our Macaulay Relief Team has helped out at St. Virgilius, the church has ordered a new P.A. system for the choir loft (to replace the old speaker system with drowned in the flood water) as well as a new amplifier for the microphones on the altar up front. The main part of the church (not including the school building or the parish offices next door) has regained its power and heat, which Father Richard Ahlemeyer is very happy about. Replacing the carpeting, the wall paneling, and re-installing the pews are the next big items on the to-do list, and they will hopefully be completed in the coming month or so when diocesan relief contractors become available after working on other churches in the area.

The front of the church (right) and the parish offices and school building.

The front of the church (right) and the parish offices and school building.

 

I could not be more grateful to have friends like Jon, Jenna, Joe and Louie, and I sincerely thank them from the bottom of my heart for coming out to Broad Channel and helping the Jamaica Bay area on its road to recovery. I pray that the residents of Rockaway, Broad Channel and Howard Beach will be completely up and running again sooner rather than later (as well as the other neighborhoods around Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island that got hit). If you’d like more information on how you can help out the Sandy relief effort around Jamaica Bay, feel free to send me a message or leave a comment.

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Hurricane Sandy Hits Howard Beach (TUOD Is Back Online)

It’s been too long since I posted on my blog–over one full month too long, to be exact. The reason behind that is Hurricane Sandy. I live down in Howard Beach, Queens, which is the last town on the Queens mainland before Jamaica Bay. After a quick drive over a bridge, you reach Broad Channel, and after one more bridge, you hit the Rockaways. All three of these areas were hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy, with major flooding, gale force winds and uncontrollable fires everywhere.

Too much has happened in the time between October 29th, 2012 (the day the storm hit) and now, but I’ll do my best to summarize a lot of what I and the rest of the Jamaica Bay communities have been going through.

First of all, I’d like to clarify that the Rockaways, Broad Channel and Hamilton Beach (one of the smaller neighborhoods that makes up Howard Beach) were all classified as Zone A areas. This meant that all residents were supposed to evacuate their homes and towns under the order of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. New Howard Beach, Old Howard Beach and Lindenwood (the other three smal towns that make up Howard Beach) were all classified as Zone B areas, and residents were told that they would not have to worry about flood water damage to their neighborhoods. The NYPD spent most of the time before the storm rushing into to Zone A areas to warn people to evacuate. All people in Zone B areas were doing was getting ready to watch their homes, cars and friends/families throughout the storm.

The NYPD driving along Woodhaven Boulevard towards Howard Beach.

The most cars I've ever seen parked up on the street medians between Broad Channel and Howard Beach.

The most cars I’ve ever seen parked up on the street medians between Broad Channel and Howard Beach.

The calm before the storm at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge beach.

The calm before the storm at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge beach.

Around 8:00pm, Howard Beach was hit by floodwaters. I was sitting on the couch watching Netflix with my sister when my dad saw water flowing onto our block through the window. My father and I immediately ran outside and rushed to get our cars moved to higher ground. (My 1999 Nissan Altima was parked in our garage, but my mother’s 1994 Toyota Corolla and my father’s 2009 Toyota Corolla were in the street) Everyone in the neighborhood was rushing their cars up into the basketball courts outside P.S. 207, the public school in town.

Floodwater rose to five feet in the street outside my house. Being four blocks up from Crossbay Boulevard and Shellbank Basin, I've never experienced or seen anything like this.

Floodwater rose to five feet in the street outside my house. Being four blocks up from Cross Bay Boulevard and Shellbank Basin, I’ve never experienced or seen anything like this.

Despite all of our efforts, pretty much all of the cars in our area of the neighborhood were totaled. My father’s and mother’s cars were both lost to floodwater, and my car was damaged by it (it thankfully survived because our garage door withstood the storm surges). The morning after the storm hit, it was clear that this storm was going to take long months to fully recover from.

The storm surge water rose to two and a half feet outside of my garage door. The water continued half way up the side of my house before it began receding.

The storm surge water rose to two and a half feet outside of my garage door. The water continued half way up the side of my house before it began receding.

The rest of this devastating story is pretty much history. Howard Beach went without power or heat for eleven days, and so did Broad Channel. Both towns were hit very hard, and constant support from various organizations, city council members and random volunteers helped pull everyone through those dark days. I not only spent many hours cleaning my own car, house and basement, but volunteered time at my parish in Broad Channel, St. Virgilius, at the American Legion in Broad Channel, where there hot food trays and a donation center were set up, and at St. Helen’s in Howard Beach (another relief center).

Two fallen trees on a friend's block in Howard Beach the morning after Sandy hit.

Two fallen trees on a friend’s block in Howard Beach the morning after Sandy hit.

 

The National Guard using Cross Bay Boulevard as a staging area while waiting for the bridges to Broad Channel and Belle Harbor to open up.

The National Guard using Cross Bay Boulevard as a staging area while waiting for the bridges to Broad Channel and Belle Harbor to open up.

It's safe to say that there were no trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Any town hit by the storm/without power didn't get to have fun on Halloween this year.

It’s safe to say that there were no trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Any town hit by the storm/without power didn’t get to have fun on Halloween this year.

For the past seven weeks, my family and I have been working nonstop to try and repair everything. We lost two cars, part of our roof, the washer and dryer, the garage door electrics, gardening tools, countless boxes of belongings in our flooded basement, etc., etc. Despite these losses, they mean very little in the long run. What matters most to us is that our friends and family all lived through this horrible storm. Too many New Yorkers lost people in this event, and I can only imagine how devastating it must be to experience that.

Destroyed gardening equipment.

Destroyed gardening equipment.

One day's worth of cleaning out the many storage boxes and crates in our basement.

One day’s worth of cleaning out the many storage boxes and crates in our basement.

The garbage kept piling up all over the town. The Department of Sanitation was so good and infinitely helpful to all of the affected residents.

The garbage kept piling up all over the town. The Department of Sanitation was so good and infinitely helpful to all of the affected residents.

The main loss in our family involved my aunt and uncle, who live in Belle Harbor. Unfortunately, their house was one of the houses to burn down to the ground, so they lost absolutely everything. They thank God everyday that they evacuated, because if they had been home, they wouldn’t have made it out alive. They’re falling back on my aunt’s mother’s home in Brooklyn while they wait to begin rebuilding. The clean-up process will be long and building a new home will be even longer, but they’ll be back one day.

My uncle's family outside their burned down home in Rockaway.

My uncle’s family outside their burned down home in Rockaway.

Part of aunt's 20+ year old van that burned up in the fire.

Part of aunt’s 20+ year old van that burned up in the fire.

The only thing to survive the storm at my aunt's house was the cable tie that my uncle had used to secure the gate before he, my aunt and their three dogs evacuated.

The only thing to survive the storm at my aunt’s house was the cable tie that my uncle had used to secure the gate before he, my aunt and their three dogs evacuated.

In the end, this is something that won’t be over anytime soon. It can be frustrating to know that many people still don’t fully understand how hard this storm hit our towns because of the fact that it really didn’t have much of an effect anywhere else. However we all work together and fight together as New Yorkers, and we’ll be back up and running before we know it. Now that my Fall 2012 semester is just about over, I can begin spending much more time in Broad Channel and Rockaway helping to rebuild and recover. I urge anyone who can to do the same.

It took over two weeks just to clean out our garage, but this is proof that with time, everything will look and feel better again.

It took over two weeks just to clean out our garage, but this is proof that with time, everything will look and feel better again.

For now, its just good to be back on my blog. I’ve missed writing and hope to be able to do it more now that our towns are slowly on the path to recovery and normalcy again. God bless you all, God bless the United States of America, and please stay warm and safe. Thanks for reading.

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Pretty soon, all NYC will have left is blank paper

So apparently, NYC is banning the use of words such as “dinosaur,” “birthday,” and “poverty” on all city-issued tests. How ridiculous is that? Check out this article on the Huffington Post website to learn more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/new-york-city-bans-refere_n_1380991.html

According to the Department of Education, they’re making this happen so they can avoid anyone feeling uncomfortable while taking a test (like people who don’t take well to the theory of evolution, for example). The people who were originally uncomfortable with these words on tests are most likely very happy right now, but most other New Yorkers are wondering: “Is this really necessary?”

To take words like the ones mentioned above out of a test is just silly. In a world like the one we live in today where every commercial ad, news show and pedestrian on the street scream out all sorts of obscenities that are far worse than the word “poverty,” are people really offended by a word like “birthday” on paper? Why change the tests that children take inside of school when as soon as they exit the building they’ll hear things that area one hundred times more offensive? I can personally attest to this truth. I live across the street from a public school, and when I open the windows in my house every morning, I don’t hear the sound of birds chirping. I hear the sound of children as young as eight and nine scream “f**k this” and “f**k that.”

And if the city feels this is more about being politically correct than morally correct, then it won’t be long before the children living in NYC have tests handed out on blank pieces of paper, and the teachers say: “You may write your own exam and give it yourself.”

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Man on a Ledge: Part Two in New York City

Only in the heart of New York City would you find something this ridiculous.

That's a man on a traffic light pole. In the middle of Times Square. (M.C. 2012)

I know! How weird is that!? I was in the city the other day when my friends and I noticed hundreds of people in Times Square all holding up their cell phones and cameras and pointing them at this one man on a pole. Some people were saying that he had been trying to promote a rap album of his, but I think they were referring to this event: Man on Pole on June 28, 2011. I’m not sure if this was the same man or someone who was inspired by that original man, but wither way, it was weird.

He didn’t have a megaphone and he wasn’t even saying anything, so everyone wondered just what he was doing up there. Whatever it was, he sure cause a lot of traffic. Hundreds of people flooded the square and cars were stopped from crossing due to the shaking traffic light and the worry that the man might jump.

After about 40 minutes, officers came and set up three different ladders to grab the man and stop him from falling. They eventually got him down and took him away. I think it’s safe to say that he’ll be doing some minor jail time for disrupting the peace and disobeying an officer.