Five years after Hurricane Sandy hit the coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, the road to recovery is still long and hard. With so many images in the mass media depicting landscapes of devastation and disaster immediately after Hurricane Sandy, How Sandy Hit Rockaway focusses on the people affected by the disaster and the unique obstacles to recovery facing each individual.

This powerful collection of emotive human faces aims to bring to light the ongoing humanitarian issues of recovering after such an event. From public housing residents stuck in mould ridden apartments to small business owners paralysed by their insurance and displaced families stuck in a hotel limbo for months on end, each of the residents have a unique issue or story that needs to be told.

The people in this ongoing series are not just a picture on a wall or a fleeting news story. We need to identify with these individuals and think about our own human story and the relationship to the people of Rockaway recovering from an enormous natural disaster and the issues at hand.

This entire project can be seen on the 'How Sandy Hit Rockaway' project blog.
'How Sandy Hit Rockaway' was a featured container exhibition at Photoville 2013. The project has also been featured in DOC Magazine; Issue 22 and is a major contributor to the Sandy Storyline Project.

• NOTE: Please scroll down to listen to Audio stories.

2 Days - Gerald Sylvester

Gerald Sylvester stands by the water mark on his house at Beach 40th Street. He and his family evacuated out of their single story home before Hurricane Sandy and stayed with his sister in Brooklyn. The water rose above the height of his two children. Gerald and his wife came home to find everything destroyed. There was almost a foot of sand inside his house and the water had overturned his refrigerator, which he found in the middle of his living room.

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6 Days - Mark Turner
Six days after the hurricane, no aid organization had come by to check on Mark Turner or any other residents in his area by Beach 32nd Street. He did not evacuate. During the storm, Mark huddled in a hallway with neighbors in an elevated part of his house. 
Mark has a number of ailments and could not walk to get help. He was unaware that an aid station existed only six blocks away. A neighbor had been cooking for him as he had run out of food on the first day. Volunteers eventually brought him water, food, and batteries. He could listen to the radio for the first time after the storm.

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2 Weeks - Gene Burke
Gene Burke has been a resident of Rockaway since he was six years old. He saw the waves from the hurricane approach and devastate his neighborhood. Gene has seen many storms sweep through the peninsula, but Sandy was by far the biggest. He lives on the seventh floor of a building on Beach 76th Street.
"That night, the water came. I saw the ocean,” Gene said. “And the waves about a mile out, three quarters of a mile, were actually rolling on top of the other waves. This was a monster! And I saw it come over the boardwalk."
After that night, Gene looked after a friend who had a heart attack only a week before the storm. Neither of them had anywhere else to go. "We have no water, no electric, no food, no medical supplies,” he said. “I mean, I can’t think of one thing positive. Climbing steps with no emergency lights. You have to feel your way up 5, 6, 7, 8 flights."

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2 Weeks - Andrew Field
Situated on the boardwalk on Beach 96th street, The Low Tide Bar is  a Rockaway institution. “It’s the heart and soul of Rockaway’, says one of the owners, Andrew Field. A Rockaway resident himself, he also co-owns the popular Rockaway Taco. 
Finally able to get through the debris and up on to what was left of the boardwalk, a team of volunteers helped Andy clean out over a foot of sand and damaged equipment from the concession building.

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3 Weeks - Milan Taylor and The Rockaway Youth Task Force.
Milan Taylor, 23, had no idea where all the donations were coming from as they arrived at The Rockaway Youth Task Force headquarters on Beach 57th Street and Averne Boulevard. With no electricity or gas to power generators, and unreliable cellular connection, they were often unable to contact anyone outside the peninsula, except for the occasional connection to Facebook. 
The Rockaway Youth Task Force was the only organization serving 20 highrise buildings in their area. Sometimes climbing the stairs as high as the 19th floor, they delivered food and supplies to the elderly and disabled who could not find aid on their own. If it weren’t for grassroots organisations such as the RYTF, these people would not have received any help.
The Rockaway Youth Task Force was denied a cut of the $50 million raised from the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief. A Harlem-based group received $25,000 to send volunteers into the Rockaways.

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3 Weeks - Victor

Victor was in his car when the waters from the ocean and the bay met on Beach 74th Street. He attempted to ride out the storm by holding on to the roof racks of his car. Fortunately, a fellow resident threw him a line to rescue him just before they watched the car be swallowed and float away. Victor now suffers from nightmares of drowning and checks for water running in the streets. Many residents stayed with their homes during Hurricane Sandy and were caught in the raging floods. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is another larger issue as a result of this disaster. 


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3 Weeks - Roberto
Three weeks after the hurricane, there was finally some power, cell phone service, food distribution and fuel for cars. The most urgent needs for relief in these affected areas were finally being met. However, with the most dire situations being concentrated on, underlying secondary issues became apparent.  - Looting, violence and greed were serious problems that arose post disaster. Roberto now has hospital bills that he cannot pay for.

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5 Weeks - Tommy Booth
A lifelong resident, Tommy Booth is a superintendent at one of the high rises in Far Rockaway. His house, like the others on Beach 25th Street, was flooded with at least three feet of water.
Tommy had to throw away a significant amount of his furniture, which was not covered by his insurance. Neither were the lost tools that he relied on to make a living. He was not eligible for a FEMA claim.

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3 Months - The Epifanio Family
In Belle Harbor, Jim Epifanio and his wife Denise are full-time caregivers for their parents. The light of the family is their 17-year-old son Ryan, who was born with severe cerebral palsy. Although he cannot walk or communicate with words, Ryan’s gentle and happy demeanor holds the entire family together.
During Hurricane Sandy, Jim and Denise Epifanio watched the water swallow up their basement apartment, (where Jim used to sleep) both their cars, and two wheelchair lifts. They also lost all power to run medical equipment for Jim’s dad. Jim remembers mentally preparing the priority of family members to save across the flood waters, if necessary. Fortunately, the water stopped rising. In the subsequent days, with no power, gas, or heat, Jim faced his family’s medical challenges head on. 

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4 Months - Rob
The smell of mold in the public housing block at 54-22 on Beach Channel Drive was still overwhelming in February.
Rob lives on the ground floor, and during the hurricane the water had filled the basement and come up into his apartment. He and his roommates continually scrubbed the mold away as it appeared again every few days. The tap water was brown and contaminated. They were told to boil it.
The New York City Housing Authority promised to move hundreds of ground floor housing residents out of these mold-ridden apartments. 
Now, over a year later, many of those residents and families have not been moved and are still scrubbing their walls.

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4 Months - Valerie
Four months after Hurricane Sandy flooded her apartment, Valerie was given a new bed by a neighbor. Throughout November, December, and January, she had been sleeping on blankets on a linoleum tile floor. She lives in public housing and has developed respiratory problems from the mold that has grown in her hallway, bathroom, and bedroom. 
The New York City Housing Authority said they intended to move the residents to alternate housing in order to clean the buildings and eradicate the mold, but in the first four months after the storm, Valerie and her roommates had only seen a NYCHA representative once.

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5 Months - Hazel Beckett
Hazel Beckett lives alone on Beach 69th Street. The 74-year-old retired nurse spent the night of Hurricane Sandy with her brother who lives on higher ground. “Everything was just topsy-turvy,” when she came back home. She found her basement apartment completely underwater with her freezer and washer-dryer upside down. The water rose a foot up into her first floor. 
She has recently had new heating system installed in her home of 37 years. In the months without heat after the storm, Hazel put red bricks on her stove on a low flame to warm her house. 
In the first five months, Hazel reached out to a number of aid organizations and was waiting for volunteers to help remove her wooden flooring, which had been completely covered in black mold.

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5 Months - Beverley Penn
Beverley Penn and her husband had been living in the Garden Inn Suites Hotel in Jamaica, Queens for three months. Beverley suffers from Hypertension and Diabetes. There was no kitchen in her hotel suite and the hotel is miles from any kind of healthy cuisine.
Beverley’s journey to find a new home for her family had been a maze of frustrating phone calls and paperwork. On a daily basis, she carried around a six inch pile of papers, just so she had all the documents she needed for any given meeting for any different aid organisation or caseworker. It had become a full time job.
Beverley is happy to finally be in her new home. However, she says that it will never be the same. Everything in it is brand new. “There are no memories. There are no photographs of my family. There are no things from our history in there. That’s the saddest part of all.”

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6 months - Jay
Outside the CVS on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Jay stands proudly in front on his 12-seater van. He is one of the many Dollar Van drivers who transport residents of Far Rockaway up and down the peninsula.
The Dollar Vans are an integral part of Far Rockaway’s lifeline. Although they are an underground part of the community, these drivers and their vans became indispensable in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They transported thousands of people during a two week gas shortage and the many months when the A train was out of service.

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9 Months - Steve Stathis
Steve and his son Christian own Boarders Surf Shop, which has been a Rockaway institution since 2004. Both stores were completely destroyed in the storm. Nine months on, Steve has reopened in time for summer. But even as the beach-goers return to Rockaway, his business is still only running at 30 percent of what it was last year.
Steve is also president of the Graybeards, a nonprofit organization that has been a staple of the Rockaway community for over a decade. Since Sandy, the role of the Graybeards has been critical. Managing donations and getting the funds directly to those that most need it has almost become a full time job. 
As FEMA and insurance companies deny many claims in the area, the Graybeards have become the last resort for a lot of desperate people. Steve reads through letter after letter from his neighbors and becomes emotional as he tells me about who they have helped, and who they cannot help enough.

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9 Months - Phil Cicia
Hurricane Sandy hit small businesses especially hard. Along the Rockaway peninsula there are more shutters than ‘Open’ signs. After nine months, most proprietors still aren’t able to get back up and running.
Phil Cicia owns four shop fronts along Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 87th and Beach 88th Streets. One of the spaces is his beer distribution business, which serves local bars, restaurants and hotels. He’s been there for 23 years.
Phil’s commercial insurance will not cover the flood damage. However, the cost of the flood option on his policy over the last 23 years would far outweigh the cost of the damage caused. “I’m just taking from Peter to pay Paul” he says.
When asked if staying in business in Rockaway is worth it, Phil replies, “If it works it works. If it doesn’t, well then you pack up and go, but I got too much invested out here and I can’t let it go.”

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10 Months - Semeo Doe and Nelson Sarweh. The Action Center - Far Rockaway
More than half of the public housing in the borough of Queens is in Far Rockaway. In the 1950s, Robert Moses’ urban renewal plan moved New York’s poorest residents to cheap land by the coastline. Thousands of units in high-rise public housing now create a concentrated poverty on the eastern end of the Rockaway peninsula.
Since Hurricane Sandy, one of the only community organizations still providing hot food, medical care, education and relocation and legal services to the residents of Far Rockaway is The Action Center at 57-10 Beach Channel Drive. For the past 12 years, they have relied predominantly on private grant money to sustain their work. The Action Center received no further funding from the millions of dollars of Hurricane Sandy aid raised by federal and nonprofit organizations. However, they were presented with the Mayor’s award for exceptional community service. This award came with no monetary attachment.

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10 Months - Mary Leonard
Mary Leonard grew up in Rockaway and is a part-time resident of the Breezy Point community on the western tip of the penninsula. All her family live in Rockaway. One of her brothers lost his house in the Breezy Point fires that razed almost 150 houses to the ground. Another has only just been able to move back into his home. Her many nieces and nephews were also affected by the storm.
Her love for the ocean and Rockaway is complete. After surfing her local Rockaway break her whole life, 60-year-old Mary hated the ocean after Sandy hit. She could not go to the beach after witnessing the devastation that it had caused. Now, after 10 months, she has just started surfing again.

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1 year and 3 months - Marissa Bernowitz
Over a year after Hurricane Sandy devastated her community, 26 year old Marissa Bernowitz and her two sons are still displaced and are living in her mother’s two bedroom apartment on Rockaway Beach Boulevard with nine other family members.
Aside from her own situation, Marissa is still dedicated to helping the thousands of others affected in Rockaway to get back on their feet. Her tireless efforts to continue with The Rockaway Free Flea Market, The Secret Sandy Claus project among many other community endeavours, has proved to be invaluable to the still struggling community.
Reaching out via social media and creating her own telephone hotline, Marissa has built a vast network of connections, which is a lifeline for many families. Sourcing food, building supplies, furniture, toys, household items and even submitting FEMA paper work for many who need the help.

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