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Demolition and Recovery in the Post-Sandy Rockaways

Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, Kensinger visits the Rockaways to check on post-storm cleanup and rebuilding efforts.


[Six months after Hurricane Sandy, the cleanup process continues in the Rockaways. All photos Nathan Kensinger.]

It has been six long months since Hurricane Sandy washed over the Rockaways. From one end of the peninsula to the other, neighborhoods that were underwater during the storm are still digging out. In Edgemere, the streets are lined with abandoned homes, while boats washed ashore by the surge remain wedged into fences and front yards. In Belle Harbor, empty mansions face the ocean, exposed to the elements. And in Breezy Point, the foundations of homes that burned to the ground are slowly being covered by sand. Although it is hard to imagine, "it could have been worse for us," said Deosaran Mahadeo, who has lived in the Rockaways for 20 years. "People are fixing up slowly but surely."

As winter fades into spring, signs of the recovery process have sprung up all along the peninsula. Workers are busy tearing down homes, pulling up rubble, and carting away the encroaching sands. Demolition crews are working through long lists of condemned homes. Construction crews are gutting bungalows and making repairs. And all along the destroyed boardwalk, contractors are working around the clock to prepare for an opening day later in May. The recovery process may take years to complete, but in the meantime, "whatever you have, you have to make it work," said Mahadeo.

In Breezy Point, numerous homes have been demolished, leaving some surviving homes isolated. "This is such a ghost town now," one resident recently told the Daily News. "Seven homes on my block are either gone or red-tagged for demolition."

The constantly advancing sands have hidden some of the empty lots left behind Sandy, while also covering streets and pathways.

Cleanup crews are currently tearing out the foundations of Breezy Point homes that burned down during the storm. 

The remaining foundations have been cleaned of debris and filled with sand. Few artifacts remain.

At the other end of the peninsula, in Edgemere, numerous abandoned boats, cars and homes dot the landscape, including a catamaran shoved through a fence.

Demolition crews working for the city are tearing down seven structures in the area that have been condemned by the HPD. "They were in rough shape," said one worker,  but there were "not as many as Breezy Point."

Though the storm passed many months ago, several gutted homes line the streets of Edgemere. "That caught fire three times," said a neighborhood resident. "They should tear it down. 

Pool trophies, beds and other belongings were left behind in this abandoned home, which was flooded during Sandy. "A lot of people have moved out,"  said Deosaran Mahadeo, who lives up the street. "I love Rockaway. I'm never leaving Rockaway."

In Rockaway Beach, the rubble left behind from a fire caused by Sandy has yet to be completely cleared, though several businesses have been torn down.

In nearby Belle Harbor, several empty storm-damaged mansions await cleanup or demolition. All of the homes along the beachfront were damaged in the storm.

As in Breezy Point, the demolition has left some homes surrounded by empty lots. "With new FEMA regulations requiring raised homes, and city restrictions on height requirements, starting over is a challenge," according to a recent Pix11 report from Belle Harbor.

The city plans to reopen the beaches and some aspect of the boardwalk by Memorial Day. "The Parks Department has crews working 24-hours a day restoring stretches of the iconic 5.5-mile boardwalk," according to WNYC, with repairs totaling $140 million. 

These new structures will be elevated islands, above the beach and the boardwalk. Some sections of the boardwalk, however, are not scheduled to be reopened. 

In Edgemere, the destroyed sections of the boardwalk stretch for many blocks at a time. Most of the debris has been carted away, although some remains, overgrown by bushes.

A few isolated sections of boardwalk still stand, without railings. "No one can be certain how long the Rockaways will survive as a playground," according the Times. "But beyond any doubt, there will be another summer."
?Nathan Kensinger
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