This sign should have given me some idea of what I was getting myself into:
From 91st Street in Howard Beach--where I saw the inverted sign--I took the bridge into Broad Channel and the Rockaways.
Broad Channel is a bit like the Louisiana, with colder weather. It's only a three to four blocks wide, with Jamaica Bay on either side. Some of the houses are built on stilts; many of the people who live there have never been to Manhattan. In Broad Channel, it seems, there are as many boats as there are cars or trucks. Some of them were torn from their moorings and were "beached" in the middle of streets, or in front of houses:
But, not surprisingly, there was more to come. The retaining wall that separates the bay from the entrance ramp for cyclists and pedestrians of the Cross Bay Bridge was gone. So was most of a restaurant that stood beside it.
When you arrive in Rockaway Beach, you come to a McDonald's. You know how powerful the storm was, and how much desperation there is, when you see this:
But the contents of that restaurant weren't the only things gone from Rockaway Beach:
This sandy lot was, just four weeks ago, a community garden and flea market. But something that had been a part of Rockaway Beach for much longer was also gone:
There was a boardwalk here. It extended from Far Rockaway, near the border with Nassau County, to Belle Harbor, about five miles along the beach. Gone, all of it, gone:
Much of Riis Park was cordoned off. But the part that was still open felt utterly desolate:
There were dunes along this stretch of beach. I don't know how long those dunes stood, but given the force of the storm, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they were destroyed in an instant.
At Riis Park, I met another cyclist. Together we rode to a beach club to which he'd once belonged. Its parking lot was full of sand, and doors of cabanas were pulled off their hinges.
He had to go home to his sick wife, but I continued toward Breezy Point. In normal times, it's a sort of gated community: One enters it through a kind of tollbooth where security guards stand watch. Normally, when I ride my bike, they barely notice me at all. Today, though, a female NYPD officer was checking people who entered. "Ma'am do you live here," she intoned. I probably could have lied that I did, or said that I was a volunteer who was meeting other volunteers. But that didn't seem right: I could only imagine how residents might have felt about an interloper like me.
What I had seen up to that point was worse than what I'd seen in the news accounts. I'm sure it was even worse in Breezy Point; for now, that assumption will have to suffice.
I'll close this post with an observation: It was, or at least seemed, much colder than I expected. Of course, that would be par for the course in an area, especially on a day as windy as today was. However, I also realized that many of the houses and other buildings were empty and still had no electricity or heat. Perhaps it really was colder due to the loss of ambient heat that normally radiates from buildings. (It's one of the reasons why, on summer days, central city areas are usually hotter than the "ring" neighborhoods or suburbs.) So it's not hard to understand why people who are sleeping in tents or in the open air are coming down with frostbite and other ailments.
I hope they can all go home soon.