They feel as if they are the forgotten. Everywhere we drive along this little spit of Queens, twenty blocks long, four blocks wide, residents stop us or just give us a shout out. "Tell them we need help!" "Where's the Red Cross?" "PIX 11 is the only media here!!"
Yesterday I drove through this flood ravaged community of 3,000 on my way to Breezy Point and knew they were suffering. When I came back today I learned just how much.
Erica and Joseph Dougherty are like so many of their fellow Broad Channel neighbors--cleaning up a catastrophic flood mess, wondering if life will ever be the same. Most are happy to be alive and safe. But after days with no lights, food, clean water or any help, they are frustrated watching all the emergency services roaring along Cross Bay Boulevard into neighboring Breezy Point.
Joseph takes us on a tour. First the curb where his baby girl's room sits ruined, then the house. We smell it before we see it, proceeding inside to find the unusable stove, refrigerator, kitchen, living room and bathroom. It's a modest bungalow, like many here. It's all Joseph and Erica have. Or had.
"I was fine when I started. Then when it came to emptying out her room, it was too much," Erica Dougherty told us as she started to tear up. Her husband Joseph, a proud iron worker, put his arm around her as the tears came.
Then there are their neighbors across the street on Noel Road. "When the water came in, we ran upstairs. We turned the electric off. Then the boat came crashing into the house. We're lucky we didn't die," says the dad of three who now has someone's massive outboard fishing boat attached, bow in, to the front of his house.
Martin Grilli, a volunteer emergency services worker is used to helping others. Now he says of the clean up of his neighborhood, "Basically we are on our own. We've got to take care of ourselves."
We found new parents Patricia and Jonathan D'Amico holding their seven month old son, Jonathan, Junior along Cross Bay Boulevard. They lamented how many of their family members lost everything in their homes. "It's disgusting how no one is helping except sanitation. No Red Cross, No FEMA. There's looters all over the place!"
This afternoon, hundreds packed the American Legion hall; for many it's the first hot meal they've had in four days, catered in from the Aquaduct casino across the bay. They also came hoping for answers from political leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio and others.
Inside the entrance to the hall, we found a group of girls, ages four to twelve, hungrily devouring hot ziti and chicken. When I asked when was the last time they had a hot meal? "A long time ago," came the answer. "I feel like I can't even remember." They told tales of bunk beds now being put on the curb, with games that used to be stacked in their bedroom. I asked the youngest about the smell, which permeates the neighborhoods. "It smells like poop," she told me. "Dog poop," came the clarification, her young mind not comprehending how the mold in the upholstered furniture, combined with fuel oil in the gutters and wet rotting wood from the bookcases to create the new eau de Broad Channel.
But while attendees' bellies were full, the promise of FEMA reps being here, was empty. Instead, politicians were here trying to give answers they didn't have to questions shouted from the standing room only crowd.
"Is the water safe to drink?"
"What happens when the lights come back on. Is it going to short because of the salt water and set my house on fire like in Breezy Point?"
"Why isn't the Red Cross here?"
"Why does the National Guard camp out in Howard Beach but not drive across the bridge to help?"
Bill DiBlasio, New York City's Public Advocate ducked out the back door for a moment to answer my questions. "We just gotta make sure food and water get here. Whether it's OEM or the National Guard. The situation here in Broad Channel, The Rockaways. It's really dire."