Postcards from Gerritsen Beach
On the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 1 in Gerritsen Beach, a resident named Tim fired up a grill on the sidewalk. Like a lot of things lying around on the streets after Sandy hit on Monday evening—children’s train sets, exercise bikes, tables and chairs, a piano—the mud-caked gridiron was no longer exactly functional, but still recognizably itself. There was no gas or electricity to fuel the stove, but it provided a serviceable metal canister to make a fire to warm the damp, brisk air. (Click on the photo above for the next slide.)
Gerritsen Beach is a peninsular community at the southeastern tip of Brooklyn. Marine Park lies just over the salt marsh to the east, and Sheepshead Bay to the west; across the bay to the southwest is Manhattan Beach. Like a lot of New York City, Gerritsen Beach doesn’t “feel like” New York City. It’s overwhelmingly white and working-class. Its vehicles wear a lot of Romney-Ryan stickers. It was cast in the role of the Boston waterfront in The Departed.
Gerritsen Beach is not home to many Manhattan commuters; you can see midtown from the shoreline, but it’s a pain to get there. And though much of its boundary is marsh and sandbar, Gerritsen Beach was classified before Sandy as Zone B—not a mandatory evacuation zone, remarkably enough. Several residents told me that they’d been assured the Belt Parkway, to the south, would ameliorate the storm surge. It didn’t.
“The water was up to my waist before I had a chance to move anything,” Bobby Leone (above) told me. “And the power stayed on.” Now it stays off. On Thursday, he and his son were living on their roof, because storm damage had made their home uninhabitable. After the waters receded, they found fish in their living room.
On residential streets, people were dragging possessions out of waterlogged basements. Most of the items could not be cleared away until FEMA could record the losses. Until then, Gerritsen Beach would look like a macabre yard sale and smell like a dank cellar.
While the power is out only Gerritsen Avenue—shops on one side, marsh on the other— has emergency lighting.
Briefly, a new kid on the block appeared—a sort of guest of Sandy: a concession stand that, according to Gerritsen insta-legend, had blown in from Breezy Point.
It was renamed Sandy’s Bar.
Michael (above) had been working virtually without stop all Thursday to clear his wrecked, grime-covered home before dark, and before he ran out of juice for his generator. Anxious as people were for the power to come back, they were equally anxious that it would return without warning and spark electrical fires.
By Friday, outside help was beginning to trickle in. Mayor Bloomberg made an appearance. I spoke with a resident named Teresa (above), who was in tears. She had only $25 left to her name, she said, and her family was trying to siphon what little gas they had in their car to use for heat and light. They had kept the tools and supplies for their painting-and-decorating business in their basement, and now everything was completely destroyed. She wasn’t sure how they would cope, even after the power came back on.
By Saturday, the fire department—the only all-volunteer squad in Brooklyn—had become hosts to an improvised information depot and community center.
By Sunday, help had arrived from as far away as the Midwest—a search-and-rescue team from Ohio—and the postponed Halloween parade went forward.
A go-to cliché about outer-borough communities like Gerritsen Beach is often that they’re “insular,” that they’re “close-knit.” But a refrain of conversations I had with residents of Gerritsen Beach over the last four days is that it’s not all that close-knit—or at least, it wasn’t. “I didn’t know my neighbors before this,” Teresa said on Saturday, “but now I do.” Once things are back to normal—relatively normal—she’s already thinking about the party she wants to throw, “to keep that community spirit going after the power comes back on and everyone is back to doing their own thing.”