Brooklyn's Sea Gate feels insult added to injury after Sandy's devastation

Some residents in one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm feel they have been relatively ignored in the aftermath

The tiny Brooklyn enclave of Sea Gate has received relatively scant attention from the media and public officials in comparison to other areas hit hard by hurricane Sandy. On Friday, five days after the storm, mayor Michael Bloomberg and other politicians visited the area to survey the damage and promise more government relief. But for many Sea Gate residents Bloomberg's visit didn't come soon enough.

"Why are we not on the map?" asked Jay Younger, a Sea Gate resident of over 25 years and owner of Brooklyn Sanitation, a local company that was assisting with the clean-up. "Other communities – like Hoboken – we know got hit tremendously. But what are we to do? Why are we not included in the plan? Why does no one talk about us?"

During the storm, waves eight feet high devastated Sea Gate's 832 houses. Although most of the flood waters have subsided, sand, in some places as high as four feet, still covered the streets. Power lines, gutted cars and debris torn from homes are also littered haphazardly.

Residents compared Sea Gate in the aftermath of the storm to New Orleans lower Ninth Ward in the wake of hurricane Katrina.

"We call Sandy Katrina's mother," said Sea Gate's community manager Tami Maldonado. "Every single home has had significant damage. We get hit all the time but nothing has ever been like this."

Sea Gate owes its remarkable toll of destruction in large part to its location. The neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by water, and its position at the western tip of Coney Island meant it was a prime target for the storm's surge. The most affected homes are on the Atlantic ocean side and appear to have been dramatically gutted, their backs torn away gaping towards the sea.

"This is something we could never imagine," said one resident who would only give his first name of Lazer. "It looks like a world war. Most people went away because the radio and television and police came around and warned everyone to get out. We stayed because we were here 40 years and we didn't believe anything like this could happen."

Lazer, 62, said that the city had sent in a handful of sanitation workers to help clear the debris, but most of the recovery effort so far was being done by the orthodox Jewish community, which has a large presence in Sea Gate.

"The water came up to my steps so I said a little prayer: 'God help us'," said Lazer. "And then around 9.30 the river of water started to go back. It was like a bunch of troops came, did their jobs and then said 'Enough! Let's march back.'"

Yeshoyehoshua Merenfeld, 30, an administrator for a local yeshiva, or religious school, evacuated from Sea Gate during the storm but returned to help neighbors.

"Everything we have in the school's basement: our dining room, our kitchen, our laundry room, all of our appliances. They're all gone," said Merenfeld. "We'll probably have to gut the whole thing."

Despite the wreckage, no one in Sea Gate was killed or injured during Sandy. Like other neighborhoods on Coney Island, however, Maldonado said Sea Gate had been targeted by looters in the hours after the sea subsided.

As its name suggests, Sea Gate is a gated community. Before the storm it was known for its safety. Its beaches are private, and separating the neighborhood's relatively affluent suburbs from Coney Island's high rises and public housing is a tall chain link fence. Residents could enter from two locations, both of which were monitored closely by Sea Gate's own police force.

Today that security is in tatters. The once fortified perimeter is full of holes, which Maldonado suspects the looters used to enter Sea Gate. One of the community's entrances has been closed and residents driving into Sea Gate on Thursday were greeted by police officers warming themselves around a burning garbage bin.

Since the storm Sea Gate has been without power, and Maldonado said this was the only way for the officers to stay warm.

"Our cops are freezing. They are here 24 hours a day," said Maldonado. "And after all we have enough wood lying around from homes. Might as well use it, right?" © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds