By 3 p.m. the line for the trucks handing out diapers, flashlights and boxes of granola bars wound along the parking lot and out onto the sidewalk. But tempers did not flare. The residents of Rockaway Beach and nearby neighborhoods who made up the line did not complain.
Some news reports on Thursday had New Yorkers fighting, sometimes physically, at long lines for gas stations, but nothing like that was visible during an afternoon in Belle Harbor, Seaside and Rockaway Park.
The tensest exchange was between a homeowner in Belle Harbor and a man selling flashlights and generators out of the back of a van. The homeowner complained about the price. “Inflation,” said the salesman. The homeowner simply walked away.
At the foot of the Cross Bay Bridge, a large parking lot coated with Sandy and littered with cars and trucks tossed aside by Sandy’s surge was a hub of activity. Buses waited to bring residents to shelters off the island. A dozen people swarmed around a fire department generator station getting their phones recharged.
Nearby, Sophia sat on the edge of the pedestal of a soldier’s statue.
“It’s a flashlight, I think,” she said when asked what was in the large black bucket that she’d obtained at the nearby distribution site. She shrugged. “It’s free. This is all free.” Sophia said she has plenty of food because her apartment, while powerless, has gas. “So I can cook.”
Less lucky was a man carrying a flashlight was the last in a line that crawled, slowly, toward two in the middle of the parking lot that were distributing supplies. His building had gas but it was being shut down. “In fact, they’re evacuating the whole building,” he said, because they’ve discovered a problem with the electrical system that will take 14 days to four weeks to fix. He was headed to stay with relatives in Brooklyn. Without lights, he said, he’s been sleeping a lot. “Some people are scared, but I’m not.”
Asked if she was afraid at night, Sophia shrugged again, smiling. “I believe in God. I am here today and happy. Tomorrow, none of us knows.”
An older woman walked painfully on a bad foot, pushing a granny cart filled with food. She had more than 20 blocks to go. As a huge Red Cross truck lumbered up the street, she shouted out, tongue-in-cheek, “Stop that truck! Stop that truck!”
“We’ve got no power, no heat, and they say we won’t until next week. Our water is black. My father doesn’t want us to leave because we’re safe together and doesn’t want to go to a shelter because, you know, people are struggling there, too,” said a teenaged girl watching the scene in the parking lot.
At night, she said, darkness was not an issue. “We camp a lot so we have lanterns that light up the whole apartment.”
But the good cheer didn’t mask growing concern over conditions on the island, and elsewhere in Queens, as people moved into a fourth day without power and limited access to food.
“Con Edison recently announced that power may not be restored until next weekend, which is an untenable position for the elderly, infirmed, and those families that have had to evacuate their homes due to loss of power or other hazardous conditions,” read a joint communique from Queens politicians issued late Thursday.
“With trees and power lines down in many areas, Con Ed has been saying they need the Parks Department to remove fallen trees, at the same time the Parks Department has been saying they need Con Ed to remove down power lines before they can provide help. In the interim, thousands of residents have been left without power while observing Con Ed trucks idling on the streets,” the statement continued.