One Wading River man’s video of the devastation in the Rockaways has sparked a chain reaction of giving.
Wading River resident Paul Halvorsen, a communications specialist with the New York City Fire Department who also lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, spent the days after Superstorm Sandy and next, the nor’easter, helping in the Rockaways, in areas including Broad Channel and Belle Harbor, Queens, communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy as scores of homes were swept away by the storm's wrath.
Firemen watched helplessly as scores of homes burned, unable to get there in time with flood waters rising, engines and ladders stalling, and high winds blowing the fire out of control.
The YouTube video Halversen shot depicts Beach 130th Street between Newport and Cronston Streets in the Belle Harbor section of Rockaway, Queens, where a gas leak led to the loss of numerous homes and a restaurant.
After the producers of the Katie Couric's new talk show, "Katie", contacted Halvorsen and asked if they could use his video in a segment on the disaster.
Halvorsen agreed, but said that when he was offered a stipend, he told the show's representatives that he would rather see the funds used toward helping Sandy-ravaged residents struggling for daily survival.
To that end, the "Katie" executives told Halvorsen that trucks loaded with supplies would be sent to the Rockaways, one to the area where the video was shot.
The day after the show aired, on Tuesday, two Lowe’s trucks headed to the devastated area, bringing $30,000 worth of much-needed supplies.
“When I got there on Wednesday half of what was brought in was already distributed, which made me feel great because that all that Lowes stuff only cost me three minutes and 11 seconds of video. I think I got a great deal,” Halvorsen said.
In additon, Halvorsen said, representatives of “Katie,” as well as Disney, the show’s parent company, and sponsors have commenced discussion of a possible rebuild in the Rockaways, an idea he said is in the “infancy” stage.
“A lot of research is going to go into what needs to be rebuilt,” he said.
Some possibilities of locatons to be rebuilt include a nursery/day care center, or senior center.
“There’s a lot of thought going into it,” Halvorsen said, adding that many community members are lending their voices to the discussion.
Wednesday’s nor’easter, meanwhile, added another bitter blow to ongoing recovery efforts in the Rockaways.
Snow, Halvorsen said, “made a mess of an already messy situation. The snow melted making the streets muddier, which I didn't think could happen. Luckily we didn’t get more than two to three inches.”
Muddy streets are dangerous because stopping while driving sometimes becomes uncontrollable, Halvorsen said; the streets are already strained with the number of vehicles -- fire department, police department, sanitation, National Guard -- moving though, without traffic control devices and with minimal street signs.
Civilian “gawkers,” Halvorsen said, who come out to “sightsee,” add to the veritable obstacle course, which includes broken down cars, downed poles, and debris piles.
“The landscape of the Rockaways has changed,” he said.
The street Halvorsen filmed has seen its share of pain and a lifetime of tragedy -- on Nov. 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed, killing all 260 onboard and five on the street. The homes were rebuilt -- only to be lost again, during Hurricane Sandy.
But despite the tragedy that has befallen the community, neighbors remains strong in their bonds with one another.
"The people of this area of the Rockaways are a tough bunch with a strong sense of community," Halvorsen said. "Everyone helping out their neighbors. I keep getting greeted with smiles and happy hellos. I can't find anyone who is bitter; there's a real 'stuff happens' attitude out here."