By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller
On Saturday morning last week, a group of volunteers left Sag Harbor in two ambulances and another SUV, headed to Queens to offer relief and supplies to the residents of Broad Channel and Far Rockaway.
What they saw when they arrived were neighborhoods literally devastated by Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter that followed the week after the super storm made landfall in southern New Jersey. It was a stark contrast to the damage inflicted on most of the East End, where erosion, power outages and gas shortages marked a majority of the impact Sandy had on this part of Long Island. Further west, lives were changed forever, many washed away with rising floodwaters.
It was for this very reason that over a week ago Sag Harbor Ambulance Corps President Ed Downes, having just received a brand new ambulance purchased solely through donations, decided to give its 2002 modular ambulance to the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department, located on a narrow channel island connecting Queens and the Rockaways.
His effort was quickly doubled by Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, who spent four days packing the ambulance with canned goods, dog food, water, blankets and other supplies.
On Saturday morning three emergency service personnel and a photographer joined Downes and Fabiano on the trip west. As soon as they turned off the Cross Island Parkway and onto Cross Bay Boulevard, which took the group down through Howard Beach and into Broad Channel headed towards the Rockaways, much changed. Traffic lights were out, but roads were busy — cars negotiated intersections by being patient with each other. Travelling over the bridge to Broad Channel, debris and leaves had climbed over five and a half feet up a chain link fence — a watermark for how high the tide rose.
“The streets were covered in mud and had debris all over them,” said photographer Michael Heller. “You could see they had tried to clear them, but there was stuff literally everywhere. We saw a boat in the middle of a median. The houses that were totally wrecked were closer to the ocean, but you could see a lot of the ones still standing sustained a lot of water damage. I am sure they all had to be gutted.”
As the journey took them onto Noel Road, where the Broad Channel Fire Department headquarters resides, generators were posted on corners and a large police presence was found in the area.
When they arrived, a volunteer with the department, Tom Moss, greeted the group at the department headquarters, a small building that had clearly been flooded significantly during the storm.
“They had both of their ambulances out, but they were ruined and they had another on site that needed some work,” said Downes. “One of their fire trucks was incinerated from the inside out because of a short during the flooding. They had another truck, usually just for parades, in service and another on loan.”
“It really hit you hard how lucky we got and how horrible some of the things are these people have to go through,” said Chief Fabiano. “Some don’t have anything left, others have been without power for weeks. It was very sad.”
“Hurricane Sandy wiped out every vehicle we have — fire trucks, engines, fly cars, boats — we lost everything,” said Broad Channel Fire Department Lieutenant Frank Pasterak. “We put out some feelers to try to get some help from out of state companies, and Sag Harbor was one of the first ones to come back to us … Sag Harbor’s ambulance is definitely a big home run for us to get back in service — it’s helping us out a lot.”
According to Lieutenant Pasternak, the response for aid has been overwhelming.
“Whatever we needed, we got — clothes, food — everyone has helped us out with everything,” said Pasternak. “We’re overstocked with everything, and everyone in town is getting what they need right away. Not just the city and the state; there are other countries, like Ireland, who sent some workers down to help.”
Chief Tracey Moccio said she was “eternally grateful” for Sag Harbor’s donation.
Despite the devastation, Lieutenant Pasternak said the department was already back up and running, and was needed through the region. While the ambulance was being delivered, it received its first call, for a man up the block with a nail in his chin.
Moss would take the team south to Breezy Point, where they spent an hour unloading the supplies Chief Fabiano had collected in Sag Harbor. The clothing was later transported back to Broad Channel after a woman with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) informed them she was no longer accepting clothing. Four trailers were already filled to the brim.
“I am just really grateful for everyone in the village who donated towards this cause,” said Chief Fabiano. “This kind of experience really wakes you up. I don’t even want to think what would have happened if we sustained a direct hit. We were very fortunate.”
This group is one of many from East Hampton and Southampton that have dedicated themselves towards the relief effort. A Saturday night benefit concert at LTV Studios in East Hampton, organized by local musicians and government leaders like Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, raised over $34,000 that will directly benefit organizations like the Salvation Army and Island Harvest in their relief efforts.
Sag Harbor’s Wendy Tarlow and her partner, Claudia Patino, have also dedicated themselves to the relief effort since their televisions first started working a few days after Hurricane Sandy passed.
“It was right away we knew we had to do something,” said Tarlow.
Patino was literally rebuilding houses in Island Park, N.Y. on Monday and began recruiting helpers on Tuesday via Facebook.
The two have also organized several relief drives, most recently putting together backpacks filled with supplies for schoolchildren. Residents can bring donations to Our Gig Two Whatever, 56 Main Street in Sag Harbor.
East End Cares is a group of local residents dedicated to providing relief for residents in the Rockaways, Staten Island and New Jersey. Using a Facebook page, the organization has been a focal point for volunteers on the East End lending a hand further west. It can be accessed by visiting www.facebook.com/groups/EastEndCares.
“The reality is this kind of relief effort is going to need to go on for several months,” said Tarlow. “People lost everything. It’s time for us to help them rebuild.”