Before the storm, Rockaway Point Boulevard was a wide-open main thoroughfare of what’s known as “the Irish Riviera,” a 500-acre stretch of barrier island lined by small clapboard beach bungalows with asphalt tile roofs, packed as closely together as the heavily Roman Catholic family lines of brothers, sisters and cousins who have passed houses down for two and three generations.
But on Wednesday the street was choked with salvage vehicles, steam shovels, equipment trucks and flatbeds from the New York Police Department, shuttling residents into a blasted and drenched landscape to sort through their few intact possessions. The storm surge seemed to have left none of the 3,500 homes untouched, and in one section 80 to 100 houses burned to their foundations late Monday night. “Everybody took a beating. Nobody got off scot-free,” said volunteer firefighter Peter Morgan, a resident of the island for 36 years whose grandparents first moved there.
Morgan was among those who tried to put out the flames when firefighters from the mainland couldn’t get there through the storm, leaving the locals to combat the blaze. “We tried our best with one hose,” he said, while laying out wet boots and turnout jackets to dry in the fire department’s parking lot. “We were the only ones who got water on the fire. We did our best with what we had.”
Morgan’s home was inundated with floodwater that carried away all his furniture. “But at least the house is on the foundation,” he said. “There are houses here that don’t have walls.”
Residents in plastic boots and parkas trudged along the boulevard, which was lined by American flags on every light pole, and Ford and Chrysler SUVs with bumper stickers that read “Loyola,” or “Support Our Troops,” or in one case, “Get Out of Hell Free,” and in another, “I’ll Keep My Guns, Freedom, and Money and You Can keep the Change.” The road was littered with Sandy’s signature, a leftover line of debris that at first glance looked like seaweed but turned out to be a sodden compost of straw, leaves, sand, torn plastic and smithereened wood.
Some of the residents pushed carts filled with soaked belongings. Others simply carried a small plastic bag. Lifelong resident Peggy Lynch and her husband, Al Castillo, a retired physician, stood by their car and peeled off muddy rubber gloves. They didn’t have a cart, or even a bag. Their four-bedroom home on the Atlantic side of the island was gone. “We salvaged a snow shovel and an extension cord,” Lynch said.