I needed to zoom out.
All week, I had been closely monitoring power outages in Riverdale and Kingsbridge. Where were trees down? Who was cold? Were they being helped? Where could they get gas? Could reporters get to work? How would we get the paper out?
I knew there were many layers to this Sandy story. But I didn’t know I needed to comprehend it all until a close friend called Thursday night to say that three generations of her family had lost their home on Long Island.
So I set out with a couple of friends from An Beal Bocht on West 238th Street Saturday morning, bound for St. Francis de Sales Parish in Belle Harbor.
Pat Gilheany, Mike Donohue and I left around noon, filling the better part of the back seat of our car with donations including cups, diapers, a stroller in a box, clothing and blankets.
Driving on the Belt Parkway was clear. John F. Kennedy airport was desolate. The sky was a cloud speckled blue.
We had no idea what we were in for.
As we entered Broad Channel on Cross Bay Boulevard, a house slanted at a 75 degree angle, otherwise seemingly unscathed, reminded me I was there to report. I asked Pat who had donated this stuff.
“My poorest friends brought all that stuff you’re on,” he said, as I leaned squashed against the window.
Cars were washed up on the meridian. On one side were piles of indistinguishable rubble, on the other a chain link fence filled in with plastic bags and debris. Objects were bizarrely misplaced. An oil tank by the side of the road. Boats in streets. Cars on lawns. A piano straddling the sidewalk and the street. Hangers dangling from porch rafters, perhaps the only items the family salvaged. It was hard to imagine that water had done all this.
Along Rockaway Beach Boulevard, it seemed a fire had burnt out half a block of stores. Somehow the word “laundry” remained visible despite the complete wreckage. A square hole in a metal gate was a peep show into a pile of brick bordered by the concrete slabs that somehow still supported it.
Signs screamed as we passed.