There was a sense when the lights came back on in Manhattan that the worst of Hurricane Sandy's destruction was over. Sadly, that's far from the truth. For thousands upon thousands of people, life is about as far away from getting back to normal as you can imagined.
The Rockaways, a community about as far out in Queens as you can get, was one of the places the storm hit hardest. We spent some time there during the last couple of days. Here's what it's like on the ground.
This is where all of the rubble and debris from the Rockaways is being taken. It's the parking lot of Jacob Riis Park, though you wouldn't be able to recognize it as such. The pile is easily ten feet tall in places, and it's as deep as it is long. As shocking as it is now, cleanup has only just begun. This pile will likely grow to three of four times its size in the coming weeks. Maybe more.
Sand Covers the Island
This image was taken in the middle of the island, about a quarter mile from the shore. Sand was swept in over many blocks. At every corner you see massive mounds of sand such as this one, made by bulldozers in an attempt to make the streets drivable. There is still a layer of sand on most streets, ranging from an inch deep to a dune that can stop a bike in its tracks.
A Typical Side-Street
This is one block of Beach 91st Street in the Rockaways on November 5th, 2012. It's not an extreme example. There are streets that look a lot worse than this, and streets that look better. This one was about average.
Debris is piled high in front of every house. You see a lot of mattresses, chests of drawers, fried electronics. You name it. Anything moisture makes useless ends up on the sidewalk.
Armed and Dangerous
Many residents are armed, and are understandably jumpy. They are willing to protect themselves and their belongings at any cost. There is a sign you see posted everywhere, "You loot, we shoot." It's not a safe place after dark.
Reduced to Rubble
Huge sections of homes and business have collapsed and/or burned to the ground. Here you see some of the casualties on Rockaway Beach Blvd, November 4th.
No More Boardwalk
Rockaway's iconic boardwalk is gone. In most places it has been swept clean off of the cement columns it sat on. Some sections are on the ground next to the columns, and some have been smashed into neighboring houses, acting like a wrecking ball. This was just blocks from where I surfed as the hurricane was coming on. It is utterly unrecognizable.