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Community remove All Faiths Cemetery debris

For All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, the road to recovery after the two tornadoes and macroburst hit Queens Sept. 16 has been heartbreaking and expensive, but not without help. Since the storm hit, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), students from Christ the King High School and community activists have donated their time removing trees to enable the cemetery to operate again.

“I was overwhelmed by the community, what they did for us,” said Daniel Austin, chief executive officer of the cemetery.

Middle Village, the neighborhood where the cemetery is located, was one of many to be pummeled by the storm, which caused $27 million in damages citywide, according to a report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Gov. David Paterson and other elected officials have request federal funding for repairs.

Austin said the cemetery, which lies along both sides of Metropolitan Avenue and is bordered by Eliot Avenue, 69th Street and Mt. Olivet Crescent on the north side and 73rd Place and the Conrail and Long Island Rail Road lines on the south side, sustained in excess of $100,000 in damages. More than 100 trees on the property, some of which were 150 years old and 80 to 90 feet high, were knocked down or broken. The fence around the perimeter was damaged as were the roads in the cemetery and the backhoe — a machine used to dig graves — when a large oak tree struck it. In addition, 300 monuments were toppled by fallen trees.

“There are things that are irreplaceable,” Austin said. “I can’t replace these trees and some of the monuments go back to the 1800s.”

Austin said the damage was so bad the cemetery was closed for 12 days to prevent visitors from being injured by falling trees, some of which had limbs hanging more than 50 to 60 feet up in the air.

“It’s heart-wrenching to see people when they can’t get into the cemetery,” he said.

But after the significant damage to the cemetery, the community pitched in. Austin said the Juniper Park Civic Association was one of the first to call for help as was the owner of a fast food establishment. Christ the King HS sent many volunteers over to the cemetery. The football and track teams cleared the cemetery of many trees, while the cheerleading team cheered them on.

“It was just tremendous,” Austin said.

He said another huge help was Crowley, who rounded up local Boy and Girl Scouts to help clean the cemetery as well as calling every day and reviewing the grounds personally with the scouts.

“The storm that struck on Sept. 16 challenged us as a community and New Yorkers rose to that challenge,” Crowley said in a release thanking the scouts. “I am continuously impressed by how our local residents came together to help out our neighbors and do what they can do to bring our community back to normal as quickly as possible.”

Austin said with the collective help of the community, the cemetery is 75 percent back to normal, but more needs to be done and even with volunteer work, the nonprofit cemetery has had to put out much money for labor charges.

“I want to keep the cost down as low as we can … but there’s some things we can’t do,” Austin said.

To help the cemetery, donations can be given to the All Faiths Beautification and Restoration Program. Instructions on how to give are available at allfaithscemetery.org/restoration.htm.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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