Rockaways: We Still Need Help
By MEGAN MONTALVO
|On Dec. 21, Public Advocate Bill deBlasio joined Rockaway residents and more than 50 Queens houses of worship on the steps of City Hall to deliver a petition urging Mayor Mike Bloomberg for more post-Sandy assistance.
Photo by Megan Montalvo
As the harsh conditions of winter approach, the Queens Congregations United for Action is reiterating a message that Mayor Mike Bloomberg has heard since Superstorm Sandy hit: Do not forget about the Rockaways.
Joined by local residents and Public Advocate Bill deBlasio, an interfaith network of more than 50 Queens houses of worship stood on the steps of City Hall last week to demand a complete restoration of electricity by the year’s end.
“Two full months after Sandy struck, the Rapid Repairs program still hasn’t restored heat and electricity for thousands of our fellow New Yorkers,” QCUA Executive Director Joseph McKellar said. “Thousands more are living with horrible mold infestations that Rapid Repairs doesn’t address at all.”
According to McKellar, who has been volunteering in the Rockaways since Sandy hit, 8,600 New Yorkers living in the Rockaway Peninsula still do not have power, heat or help to fix mold so severe that it is causing health problems in children and adults.
“Many residents are experiencing what has been dubbed ‘the Rockaway cough,’” he said. “Living without heat and power is bad enough for one night, but to be living without it for months is just unacceptable.”
In addition to experiencing health issues, several religious leaders living in Far Rockaway described the situation at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, the only major medical facility on the Peninsula, as “overwhelmed” and “in the desperate need for assistance.”
“St. John’s has been so inundated with patients that it is in danger of closing,” said Rev. Jeffry Dillon, who pastors Christ the King Church in Springfield Gardens. “If this were the Upper East Side, or other parts of the City, would such suffering be permitted to continue? We believe the answer is no.”
Despite setting up warming centers in the area, clergy members said that all too many residents are falling ill and have no where else they can afford to go. Others, McKellar said, are immigrants too fearful of risking deportation to ask the government for help.
“My home has been totally gutted. It is a shell. It is uninhabitable,” said Rockaway homeowner Pauline Anderson Brown. “Part of my appeal of being here today is to say to Mayor Bloomberg we need more help.”
Though QCUA acknowledged Rapid Repair workers for the more than 2,000 homes they have restored to full capacity since Sandy, many rally attendees, including deBlasio, criticized the Mayor for “not doing good enough.”
“City Hall likes to tell us the crisis is over, but it is not over,” deBlasio said, as he stood in front of the large crowd of residents on City Hall’s steps. “When the time comes that every New Yorker can go back to living some semblance of normalcy, that is when the crisis will be over. The Rapid Repairs program must live up to its name.”
Though QCUA’s rally joined a 21-page research report they released earlier this month, which outlined a 10-point strategy for immediate and long-term recovery, and the delivery of a petition containing more than 3,000 signatures urging the Mayor to include mold remediation under the Rapid Repairs program, the group has yet to receive a response from any top officials within his administration.
Within the coming weeks, McKellar said he remains hopeful that Bloomberg’s office will schedule an appointment to address the clergy’s concerns.
“In light of all the research we have done, it is clear that something needs to be done immediately,” he said. “Unfortunately, all we can do now is move on with our volunteer efforts while we wait for the Mayor to respond.”
As of press time, calls made to the Mayor and the Long Island Power Authority were not returned.
Reach Reporter Megan Montalvo at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.