In Coney Island and Brighton Beach along the boardwalk, the disaster is over, but a big, expensive cleanup lies ahead.
On Saturday, on a trip to the area, this writer began walking east at Stillwell and Surf avenues. (Much of the real devastation took place at the west end of Coney Island – a man behind the counter at a newsstand said, “Many of the people still don’t have lights.”)
The seasonal amusement rides and snack bars along Surf Avenue were closed for the winter. But several of the furniture stores on the north side were open, and they clearly had electricity.
Also on the north side of Surf Avenue was a large, highrise co-op, and things there were clearly proceeding in a normal fashion. Around here, however, one saw the first sign that there had been a disaster: a parked FEMA van.
When the Aquarium came into view, one could see, beyond the fence, several people in protective suits hard at work, with vehicles with the words “Emergency Management” parked nearby. The Aquarium took a big hit during Sandy and is still not open.
Past the Aquarium, I walked to the boardwalk. While there were lots of people walking on the boardwalk, at least half the surface was covered with caked sand. Several of the loose boards moved up and down as I walked, making me walk slower. One of the famed Brighton Beach handball courts also had a huge sand pile right in the middle, although the others were filled with handball players as usual.
Looking toward the beach, one noticed that the level of the sand was now so high it reached that of the boardwalk. Here and there, driftwood could be seen.
Above the boardwalk, wires had been strung up between the light poles facing the ocean, probably meaning that the normal electrical grid that powered the lights was out of commission, and they had to be hooked up to a generator instead.
About a block before the apartment houses of Brighton Beach began, there was a real surprise—a group of National Guardsmen in uniform accompanied by their camouflaged vehicles.
“Most of us left about a week ago,” one of them told me, “and most people here have power now. We’re the last group, and we’re just here to check up on things and make sure they’re OK.” While we were talking, some tourists asked to be photographed with them, and they obliged.
Several of Brighton Beach’s Russian oceanfront snack bars and restaurants facing the boardwalk were now open. But a “cesspool management” truck was parked a block away, and workers were busy laying plastic pipes into the Tatiana Restaurant, which had sustained heavy damage.
Finally, I walked to Brighton Beach Avenue. It was a bustling street, all the stores were open, and crowds were walking back and forth. There was no indication that there had been a huge storm almost a month beforehand.
The boardwalk area is clearly out of the woods—but someone’s going to have to clean up all that sand!