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HOLIDAY SUPPORT

Giving Thanks in the Rockaways

At one of the main volunteer centers in the Rockaways, workers are learning fast as they race against hunger and dropping temperatures, reports Matthew DeLuca.

It won’t be an easy Thanksgiving in the Rockaways, where too many Queens families had their homes washed away in the surging tides of Hurricane Sandy. As the government has struggled to respond, amateurs have learned fast at the ad hoc Hurricane Sandy recovery center in the parking lot of St. Francis De Sales Parish of Rockaway Park. They have had to.

Superstorm Sandy

Donations are stored and distributed in the Saint Francis de Sales school gymnasium in the Rockaways, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in the Queens borough of New York. (John Minchillo / AP Photo)

It started with neighborhood moms and dads who took in donations that were sent from as far away as Seattle, but volunteers quickly swelled the relief ranks as the waters receded and it became clear in the close-knit neighborhood of Irish-Catholic families that surrounds the parish that the damage spread far beyond their own streets.

The church and its adjacent school building sit on Beach 129th Street, about halfway down the spit of land that juts out below Brooklyn and ends in Breezy Point, where 100 homes were reduced to embers. The Belle Harbor parish seemed well-placed to collect supplies and then distribute them throughout the area. Nestled amongst homes where the ideal of service rings with the carefully preserved names of local firefighters and police officers who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the church has become one of several critical outposts of aid dotting the peninsula.

It’s the parking lot across the street from the church that’s developed its own congregation in the past three weeks—a raggle-taggle group of people from across the city and the country who have worked to get food, cleaning supplies, and clothes to some of the areas neediest residents.

The group is racing to expand its operation—a task easier said than done in neighborhoods where piles of discarded furniture and appliances still litter the streets, cars rendered useless by sea water remain where the water took them, and police officers directing traffic wear construction masks to keep out the dust every passing vehicle kicks up.

Residents of the Rockaways gave thanks on the holiday.

Governor Andrew Cuomo Tuesday announced a free temporary subway line, the H, running from Far Rockaway at the eastern end of the peninsula to Beach 90th Street, about halfway down its length. Getting volunteers to some of the hardest hit areas, and transporting supplies to the areas where residents are scrubbing encroaching mold from their walls with donated bleach, remain difficult tasks, volunteers at St. Francis de Sales said, and restoring some mass transportation may help add to their ranks.

Rebuilding Rockaway

Another Kind of Warmth

Family, friends, and faith are driving Rockaway residents, with post-hurricane reconstruction beginning in the hard-hit Queens enclave. Michael Daly on how New York’s richest neighborhood as measured by spirit is pulling together.

The reconstruction of Rockaway in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy began last week when off-duty firefighters raised the awning from the burned ruins of what had been the social center of New York’s richest neighborhood as measured by spirit.

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The entrance of the Harbor Light Pub is all that remains of the neighborhood restaurant after it burnt to the ground during Hurricane Sandy. (Michael Daly)

They then set the miraculously unscathed section of canvas bearing the words Harbor Light Pub upon four 4-by-4 beams they had lashed together with plastic ties to the iron railing of the brick stoop that is all that remains of a storied gathering place.

The Harbor Light had been no less important to this Queens enclave of firefighters and cops than the Stork Club had been to the swells of cafe society in Manhattan, where wealth is measured in money. The Stork Club could boast of Elizabeth Taylor, but the Harbor Light had Peggy Moran, the wise and wonderful mother of firefighters John and Mike. She was always given the best table by the window.

And where the Stork Club had Sherman Billingsley, the Harbor Light had Bernie Heeran, a retired firefighter, sandhog, and still grieving father of a son lost on 9/11. The photos on the walls of Heeran’s establishment were not of movie stars and socialites but of true celebrities: first responders who had given their lives.

Two flags stood beside Harbor Light’s front steps. One was of course the Stars and Stripes. The other was a white banner bearing shamrocks and the letters RIB. These letters stood for three boyhood friends, the Rockaway Irish Boys.

Vets from Team Rubicon helped repair the Rockaways in the wake of Sandy's damage.

One was Bernie Heeran’s son Charlie, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and perished in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Another was Christopher Lawler, who was killed when an airliner crashed catty-corner from the Harbor Light two months after 9/11. The third was Michael Glover, a Marine who enlisted because of 9/11 and was killed by a sniper in Iraq in 2006. He had been wearing a cross made from Trade Center steel given to him by his uncle, FDNY Chief of Department Pete Hayden, who can be seen in command in the famous video shot in the lobby of the North Tower.

Seaside Heights

Snooki Meets Sandy’s Reality

The pint-sized star and her ‘Jersey Shore’ castmates were serious, demure even, as they pleaded for help for the Sandy-ravaged town that hosted their show. Malcolm Jones on when reality met reality TV.

Snooki worked an almost empty room.

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Jenni 'JWoww' Farley, Pauly D and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi attend MTV "Restore The Shore" Jersey Shore Benefit at on November 15, 2012 in New York City. (Theo Wargo / Getty Images)

Most of the TV crews and reporters had packed up and gone by the time the MTV handlers brought her into the area where the media had been interviewing the stars assembled for the network’s “Restore the Shore” telethon Thursday night. By then, the reporters had plenty of soundbites from the other stars of Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Teen Wolf, and assorted other reality-TV vets and musicians recruited to raise money for Architecture for Humanity’s rebuilding efforts.

But long before Snooki showed up, the press had had enough. There are, after all, only so many ways to say you hope they rebuild Seaside Heights, N.J., the town made famous as Jersey Shore’s backdrop and most recently devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

In the 3 1/2 hours of press interviews that preceded the 11 p.m. telethon, there was an unsettling disconnect between the clips from the sixth and final season of Jersey Shore rolling on the monitors lining the walls and the Jersey Shore stars being shepherded from one press table to the next in a sort of media version of speed dating.

On camera the denizens of that Seaside Heights beach house were living as large as ever. Jersey Shore may be real, but these camera-savvy stars are clearly playing to the cameras that monitor their every move. You couldn’t call it acting, but it is definitely a performance.

In person the cast was much more reserved, quieter, even serious. They clearly cared about the town that Sandy had ravaged. They were there to help.

Even Danny Merk, the man who runs the Shore Store, a Seaside Heights boardwalk shop and frequent location for the show, made an appearance. His store had lost its roof and his stock was ruined, but he was upbeat. And he couldn’t say enough about how the cast had stepped up.

WISE GUY

Taking Sandy’s Name in Vain

At the battered edge of Brooklyn, an alleged mobster claims he’s too busy with recovery efforts to show up for his extortion sentencing. Matthew DeLuca checks in on the ravaged neighborhood.

Emmanuel “Manny” Garafolo nearly swam with the fishes. Or his neighborhood did, anyway, according to a letter the reputed Gambino family associate’s attorney sent to a federal judge on Nov. 9, requesting that his client’s sentencing on extortion charges be pushed back.

Taking Sandy’s Name in Vain

The second floor of a home damaged by hurricane Sandy hangs to the first floor in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Seagate in New York, Nov. 13, 2012. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters / Landov)

Garafolo’s been too busy helping to restore Sea Gate—the  gated community on the western tip of Brooklyn’s Coney Island where he lives—in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the lawyer wrote.

To be sure, Sea Gate was among the areas in New York hit hardest by the historic storm. Nearly three weeks later, residents are still struggling to recover. Whether or not Garafolo is irreplaceable in that effort is another matter.

“Each day, he returns to Sea Gate to work with his neighbors to repair their community,” Garafolo’s attorney argued in the letter to U.S. District Judge Dora L. Irizarry. “As a skilled operator of heavy machinery, Mr. Garafolo has been manning equipment—such as a bulldozer—to clear the streets and perform other critical tasks.”

“In addition to the grueling physical work in which he has been engaged, he has been navigating the complicated, and often frustrating, process of dealing with FEMA and insurance companies—a process that is both time consuming and draining, and the outcome of which is still uncertain.”

Garafolo pled guilty to extortion charges in February of this year, according to court documents. He was one of eight Gambino associates listed in an indictment filed on Jan. 5, 2011, in the Eastern District Court of New York, which alleged that Garafolo and other defendants had engaged in extortion through “actual and threatened force, violence, and fear.”

The man’s name appears as Emmanuel Garafolo in documents filed by the government, but his last name is spelled both Garofalo and Garafolo in his attorney's letters to the court. His name appears as Emanuel Garofalo in city property records. Neighbors confirmed that the man on Atlantic Avenue is the correct alleged mob associate. Neither he nor his attorney returned requests for comment for this article.

Giving Back

Macy’s Donates Parade Tickets

Macy’s Donates Parade Tickets Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

5,000 will go to Sandy victims.

Macy’s announced on Saturday that has set aside 5,000 tickets for the Thanksgiving Day Parade for victims of Hurricane Sandy. The parade’s balloons are stored in Moonachie, New Jersey, which has been hard hit by the hurricane, but the balloons have survived. Meanwhile, the death toll in a 65-mile radius of New York City from the storm ticked up to 97, with 43 of those deaths in the city itself. Officials also said the destructive superstorm set the record for trees felled in New York and New Jersey, with 10,000 downed trees in New York City and 113,000 in New Jersey.

Read it at AccuWeather.com

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Helping Sandy’s Victims

SOS

Text In for Help

How a text messaging service is getting aid to the most remote areas hit by Sandy.

When Stephanie Shih pulled her pickup truck up to Bayfield Avenue, a waterfront street of Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, she found a man pushing a wheelbarrow of debris in front of his storm-wrecked home. It was two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit and he was all alone. Shih and her friends were the first to offer him help.

Sandy Recovery in the Rockaways

Worker George Gutierrez moves a wheelbarrow full of sand out of the basement of an apartment building filled with water and sand by the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy in the Brooklyn borough region of the Rockaways in New York on November 14, 2012. (Lucas Jackson, Reuters / Landov)

“You could tell he was really relieved and surprised to see us because at that point he wasn’t expecting anyone to come,” she remembers. “FEMA is there and the Red Cross is there, but not a single person had been to his house.” The man hadn’t even been able to ask for help—but unbeknownst to him, three other people had done so on his behalf through a mobile system designed by Shih. The four of them got to work, and by the end of the day had removed the debris and cleaned out his entire first floor, which had been destroyed by four feet of water during the storm.

To thank for the speedy assistance is an innovative new mobile campaign: Occupy SMS. After volunteering in the aftermath of the hurricane, Shih realized that there were thousands in remote locations untouched by relief efforts, while the central areas were overwhelmed with volunteers and supplies. The 26-year-old, who has a background in tech and nonprofit work, devised a mobile system that would instantly and directly connect those in need with the help they require.

In an era of complicated mobile technology, its selling point is simplicity—there’s no app to download, webpage to load or number to dial, all of which are difficult in hard-hit areas with limited cell and internet service. Those seeking aid for themselves or others text in “Sandy” to 69866, while people offering assistance send “Mutual Aid” to the same number.

Within the system, volunteers are matched up with someone in the general vicinity who needs the help they’re providing (pumping, cleaning, supplies, food), given their information, and asked to confirm their willingness to deliver aid. Once a reply of “yes” is received, the case is taken off the database.

The system had a remarkably swift transition from idea to concept to creation. On Friday Nov. 9th, five days after Shih conceived of the idea, it was up and running, with the help of tech firm Mobile Commons, who offered to pay for the system and provided use of its platform.

Just a week later, Occupy SMS has filtered 1,700 messages through its system. Shih says they represent about 115 people requesting and receiving help, and estimates each volunteer has submitted 2 to 3 offers of support. The scale of each project undertaken by a volunteer means it’s unlikely more than one or two can be completed in a day. With that math, the amount already accomplished shows Occupy SMS on a fast track to becoming a major player in the relief effort.

POST-SANDY

Obama: ‘There’s Still a Lot of Cleanup’

Obama: ‘There’s Still a Lot of Cleanup’ MANDEL NGAN / Getty Images

Visits Staten Island.

President Obama made an appearance on Staten Island Thursday after first taking in a bird's-eye view of Hurricane Sandy's enduring damage from a helicopter. Among a sea of white tents housing disaster-recovery services, the president met with several survivors as well as local officials and federal aid workers, promising that he'd continue to make regular trips to the region to ensure a complete and expeditious recovery. "There's still a lot of cleanup to do," he said. "People still need emergency help. They still need heat. They still need power, they still need shelter, kids are still trying to figure out where they're going to school." 

Read it at The Washington Post

THANKS, SUPERSTORM

Jobless Claims Spike

Jobless Claims Spike Michael Bocchieri / Getty Images

Sandy likely responsible.

The Labor Department reported this morning that there were 439,000 initial jobless claims, a 78,000 increase from the previous week’s 361,000. These latest numbers stand out because the trend has been for claims to be holding steady or coming down; last week’s spike is almost certainly attributable to Hurricane Sandy. The four-week moving average of claims, which is less noisy than any new week of data, rose 11,750 to 383,750.

Read it at Labor Department

Car Talk

Sandy’s Auto Toll

With an estimated 250,000 vehicles destroyed in the storm, car dealers, manufacturers, and buyers are negotiating a landscape littered with obstacles.

When the water came up on the evening of Oct. 29th and flooded much of the tristate area, it didn’t just ruin homes and businesses. Hurricane Sandy has also taken a serious toll on the auto industry—on the East Coast and beyond.

Sandy Taxis

Taxis sit in a flooded lot in Hoboken, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy, October 30. (Michael Bocchieri / Getty Images)

An estimated 250,000 cars were totaled during Sandy, and images of hundreds of parked cars floating have become among the most iconic images of the devastating storm.

Two weeks after Sandy made landfall, the auto industry is preparing for what John Sinclair, Jr. of New York’s AAA calls a possible “boon for the industry”—even as it tries to weigh the needs of consumers forced to buy new cars.

With so much supply destroyed, used-car prices have already risen as much as $700 to $1,000 per vehicle, says Ivan Drury, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com, an automobile-research firm. “The market has been kicked into high gear,” he told The Daily Beast. Prices on new cars are also expected to rise, says Drury, although less dramatically than those for used cars.

Drury says he expects the aftermath of Sandy to affect the national auto industry. “Some people will be too afraid to buy cars on the East Coast, and they’ll have them shipped from the Midwest or West Coast. There will be fluctuations in the market,” he said.

While manufacturers and car dealers are already reporting an uptick in business, they are cautious to maintain the tricky balance between their gain and their customers’ loss. “We’re looking out for our friends in the community,” says John Bruno Jr., the general sales manager at Potamkin New York. Bruno says General Motors and other manufacturers are offering discounts of at least $500 on new cars for customers whose cars were totaled during Sandy.

“Moving forward, it looks like a majority of our business will be replacing flooded cars,” he said. “Today, a school principal in Breezy Point came in to replace the second of his two cars lost in the storm. Beyond anything, we want to help these people.’

HURRICANE SANDY

Recovery Elusive for NYC’s Poor

Recovery Elusive for NYC’s Poor Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Most people don’t even know who is supposed to help.

It’s a tale of two cities. As New York deals with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, life has returned to normal for many of her victims—but not those victims in the poorest parts of the city. Communities along the southern shores of Brooklyn and Queens still don’t have power or heat and are desperate for supplies. Local residents are picking up the slack, organizing volunteers and collecting donations for those in need. But compounding the problem is that so many people don’t even know what government agencies are supposed to be helping—mainly because there were so few people on the ground.

Read it at Capital New York

Hurricane Recovery

Sandy’s Smartest New Invention

It was originally meant for hikers, but the BioLite CampStove, which converts wood-burning fire into electricity to charge cellphones, could revolutionize disaster relief.

The image of groups of displaced refugees huddled around a contained fire during a blackout or after a major storm is certainly a familiar one. But charging their iPhones at the same time?

BioLite Camp Stove

BioLite

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a follow-up storm of relief efforts blew into the New York-New Jersey area. Volunteers flocked to the most devastated areas. The Army Corps of Engineers sent a “SWAT” team of dewatering experts to help drain flooded subway tunnels. And on the ground level, one of the most useful tools to emerge is a genius new spin on the most basic of emergency devices: the campfire.

The BioLite CampStove is about the size of a coffee urn. Developed as the hot new toy for hikers, the stove houses a small fire that burns from hunter-gatherer fuel sources—dry twigs, pinecones—and, in addition to warmth, generates electricity for users to charge mobile devices. You can cook on it, too. But with hundreds of thousands of people without power for days following the wrath of Sandy, and many in the New York region still in the dark, a serendipitous new function of the CampStove—disaster relief—has come to light.

“We realized some of these applications while we were developing it,” Erica Rosen, director of marketing at BioLite, tells The Daily Beast. “But it has really come front and center in the last week.”

The Wednesday after Sandy struck, a group of three BioLite engineers packed a car with four CampStoves and a folding table and drove to Lower Manhattan, where there was still no power, and set up a charging station outside Washington Square Park. They made a handwritten sign—“Come charge your phones for free and drink some tea while you’re waiting”—and quickly amassed a crowd of local residents toting dead phones who couldn’t believe their luck. Finally, a way to charge their cells and reopen crucial lines of communication with family and friends.

“One person was like, ‘Just let me know when this company goes public. I want to pour my life savings into it,’” Nissan Lerea, one of the BioLite product engineers who manned the charging station, says. “A lot of people wanted to buy the stoves from us right then and there, but we weren’t selling it. One person offered to buy it used on the spot.”

The next day, more engineers joined him as he transported seven CampStoves to a pop-up charging station outside City Hall. Lerea says the group wasn’t sure what to expect, or even if setting fires on a curbside table was even legal (both days, cops told them to pack up and leave after a few hours), but he couldn’t fathom not going out to help when he had such a useful—and needed—tool at his disposal.

HURRICANE SANDY

N.Y., N.J. Warn of Long Recovery

N.Y., N.J. Warn of Long Recovery Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Gas rationing hampers progress.

Nine days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, the governors of New York and New Jersey are warning residents that the recovery will be long—especially in coastal areas where thousands of homes were destroyed. Power hasn’t yet returned to certain areas of the states, and New Yorkers are dealing with gasoline rationing for the first time in decades. At least 120 people in the U.S. were killed by the storm, which has caused an estimated $50 billion in damages and economic loss. “This is our Katrina,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Read it at Reuters

Victim of Sandy

Requiem for a Mailman

Rick Gold, who died in Sandy’s onslaught, was a Rockaway mail carrier beloved by co-workers and those on his route, to whom he carried extra stamps if they were ill or old and visited them on his day off. Michael Daly reports.

Election Day also marked the resumption of mail service in hurricane-ravaged Rockaway. And, though there was scant discussion about who might be president, there was talk everywhere about the tragic absence of a truly beloved government official, 67-year-old letter carrier Rick Gold.

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Left: Rick Gold. Right: A New York Police Department van drives along a street soaked with rain and covered with debris in a Rockaway neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., Nov. 7, 2012. (Courtesy of the Gold Family; Craig Ruttle / AP Photo)

Rick was an Army veteran and former computer tech who had not joined the U.S. Postal Service until he was 50. His death during the storm was recognized as an irretrievable loss of part of what made the neighborhood the neighborhood. He was a letter carrier unlike any other, or perhaps exactly like the iconic mailman of another era.

“He was my personal mailman,” says Mychal McNicholas of Rockaway. “He was everybody’s personal mailman.”

Rick lived as well as worked in Rockaway and there seems to be nobody who was not the beneficiary of some small kindness from him. He would bring stamps for the elderly and the infirm. He would also save them an arduous trip to the post office by signing their names and making the delivery himself. He never let some silly bureaucratic rule stop him from performing a simple good deed.

“He did everything for everybody,” says his wife of 42 years, Linda Gold.

On his days off, he would visit people on his route who seemed in need of company.

“He would say, ‘I have to take you to Millie’s house. Millie’s alone and she’s lonely,’” Linda recalls.

Disaster Strikes

As Rumors Swirl, FEMA's Problems Endure

Yes, the agency did try to claw back some of the money it gave out after Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, reports Michael Moynihan.

It’s one of those stories that sends you straight to Snopes, that debunker of Internet myths and conspiracy theories. Could it possibly be true that FEMA, the most maligned federal agency after the IRS, asked victims of Hurricane Katrina, Rita, and Wilma to repay millions of dollars in relief funds supposedly transmitted in error? And did they really ask for compensation from Katrina victims more than five years after their checks were cashed?

Applying for recovery assistance after Superstorm Sandy.

Evangean Pugh, far right, talks on a phone as she waits on line to apply for recovery assistance from Superstorm Sandy at a FEMA processing center at in Coney Island, Nov. 2, 2012. (Bebeto Matthews / AP)

One can be forgiven a certain degree of skepticism: After the tragedy in New Orleans, a series of stubborn myths percolated online—mass sexual assaults in the Superdome, psychotic New Orleanians attempting to shoot down rescue helicopters.

But it is indeed true that in 2010 FEMA audited hundreds of millions of dollars it distributed in relief money, sending out 83,000 notices to those who received—and almost surely spent—agency cash. According to the Washington Post, the government was looking to recoup $385 million of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma aid money.

The feckless disaster relief agency had become a feckless debt collection agency.

As money trickles to Hurricane Sandy victims, it’s reasonable to wonder if the feds will someday come skulking back, asking victims to cough up money mistakenly disbursed. According to a 2011 report from the Associated Press, FEMA claims that “procedural changes since 2005 mean future disaster victims aren’t likely to have to deal with large recalls of cash.” Not entirely reassuring.

After two years of frightening storm victims who received federal relief, the agency—after being prodded by Senators Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Thad Cochran (R-MS), amongst others—announced that it would “forgive” overpayments made to hurricane survivors. But in typical FEMA style, those asked to return cash are required to file a “repayment waiver” within 60 days of receiving a mea culpa letter from the agency. But many of those initial letters seeking repayment were returned to Washington unopened, with thousands of victims having long since abandoned houses and communities devastated by Mother Nature. And also unknown is just how much FEMA has spent attempting to recover its money; the percentage of people willing and able to repay the government is doubtless vanishingly small.

After its disastrous performance with Hurricane Katrina, and smaller failures since, the agency became a punch line, a perfect example of the Bush administration’s incompetence in the face of a major domestic crisis—underscored by the president’s now-infamous support of agency director Michael Brown: “Heck of a job Brownie.” All of this is undeniably true, and Katrina is remembered as one of that administration’s signature failures. But all the political point-scoring obscures deep institutional problems at the agency that exist independent of who occupies the White House.

What Makes a Hero?

Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that deploys veterans to help with disaster recovery, did their part to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan last week. Team member Curtis Coleman, a former Marine, shares his thoughts on heroic leadership.

  1. We Love You, Lydia Callis Play

    We Love You, Lydia Callis

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    Chris Christie's 'SNL' Warning

  3. Marc Jacobs’ Apartment Is Flooded Play

    Marc Jacobs’ Apartment Is Flooded

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Hilarious Wind-Blown Reporters

Hilarious Wind-Blown Reporters

As Hurricane Sandy barrels toward the northeast, see some of the most hilarious wind-blown reports.

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