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Goodwill revives Rockaways

Volunteers knock on doors at the Sand Castle houses to provide food and supplies to residents without power in the Far Rockaway following Hurricane Sandy. AP Photo/John Minchillo
TimesLedger Newspapers

Residents of many neighborhoods in Queens awoke to a world without electricity and heat the morning after Hurricane Sandy lashed the East Coast with villainous rage and now that world of cold and perpetual darkness has become the new normal for many in the borough’s seaside communities.

But amid the wreckage an abundance of goodwill has emerged from all corners of the borough and the nation at large.

The generosity began in the neighborhoods that experienced the most destruction.

Hundreds of volunteers flooded the narrow peninsula on Thanksgiving, distributing meals to the storm’s victims who gathered in tents, crowded relief centers and ate outside on the battered streets. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) sponsored a feast along with the Community Church of the Nazarene, which fed 500 people at the Challenge Preparatory Charter School, at 365 Beach 56th St. in Far Rockaway.

The United Sikhs have handed out more than 3,000 vegetarian meals cooked in the kitchens of their temples to storm victims in Queens, while schoolchildren in Forest Hills have joined the volunteer effort by making blankets for people in the Rockaways struggling to survive without heat or electricity.

According to the Long Island Power Authority, the utility which serves the Rockaways, most customers have had their power restored - at least on paper. But homeowners must have an electrician certify that their damaged dwellings are ready to go back on line, leaving some in the dark.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said owners and landlords of multi-family residential buildings affected by Sandy must take action and make the necessary repairs to provide electricity, heat and hot water to their tenants. He said building owners who need assistance should sign up for NYC Rapid Repairs, a city program that speeds up assessments so essential services can be restored.

The mayor announced the damage caused by the superstorm would top $19 billion in public and private losses. He wants the federal government to pay for half, roughly $9.8 billion, to supplement the $5.4 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance and the $3.8 billion in damage covered by private insurance.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking close to $42 billion in statewide federal assistance since he believes burdening New York taxpayers with the bill would “incapacitate” the state.

Against the sometimes stark odds, the restoration of the human spirit is healthy and in full force throughout the borough.

PS 114 in Belle Harbor reopened Tuesday — a full three days ahead of schedule. The school’s reopening leaves 12 schools citywideand close to 5,400 students still displaced after the storm.

And for business still hurting, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced new low interest loans for businesses and individuals still laboring to rebuild. Some small businesses have opened their doors and are running on generators in the Rockaways, but many are still closed and may never return.

As another aid to the relief effort, Queens Library has stationed a mobile library at its Peninsula Branch to provide some page-turning entertainment to those in the area, as well as a place to charge electronic devices.

The winds of Hurricane Sandy stirred the best of the city’s humanitarianism, with many different groups rising to the occasion.

On Sunday, hundreds of volunteers visited hard-hit areas in the Rockaways and went house to house cleaning up hurricane-related refuse, clearing 22 tons of garbage from the Rockaway area. The groups also served hot meals to more than 300 people.

The community cleanup was organized with support from the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Maspeth Kiwanis, Keep America Beautiful and Waste Management. The groups worked with state Sen. Joseph Addabbo’s (D-Howard Beach) office and other local elected officials to identify areas in need of help.

And just in time for Christmas, the office of City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) will hold its annual toy drive, but this year the needs are a lot more evident.

“This year, a lot of people lost everything,” said Donovan Richards, chief of staff for Sanders. “One of the most important things we can do is ensure children have a happy Christmas.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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