Wednesday 31 October 2012

Rockaway & Jamaica Bay hammered by Hurricane Sandy

I've only been to New York a few times, but it's dreadful to see footage of what has happened there. Many of the photos that are coming out are places I've walked in happier times, now underwater. I've no doubt downtown Manhattan and areas like Brooklyn will quickly clean it all up and move on, but what about the lower-lying areas that don't have huge skyscrapers and the backing of big business? The area that stood out for me most of all prior to the storm hitting was Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways. These lie south-east of Manhattan, right next to the ocean, and it's completely different out there to downtown NYC. When I was over there last year, I spent a day out at the famous wildlife refuge, and also went out to Rockaway to look at the sea - and Gulls as it happens. You take the A train from Manhattan to get out there - a long ride that takes you all the way across Brooklyn, and then finally bends down south across Jamaica Bay itself. Broad Channel is the stop, and if like me it was Downtown you left from, you emerge into a completely different world of low wooden houses, many having seen better days. A lot of them actually sit out above the water, with part of the house, or indeed the whole house, on stilts. Never having been out this way before, I was amazed. One of the first birds I saw was a Yellow-crowned Night Heron fishing just underneath somebody's porch - a world lifer!

Looking east from Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge towards Broad Channel
The reserve itself is reached via a short hike from the station - it's designed for people with cars I think, as I had to pick my way along the side of a dual carriageway, but once you make it to the reserve, the only real clue you have to where you are is the iconic Manhattan skyline to the west. When I went there were practically no other visitors, it was just me and the birds, and I had a fantastic day out, culminating in photographing Laughing Gulls on the beach at Rockaway. So when I saw Hurricane Sandy's predicted path, and the likely storm surge that it would bring to the New York area, my mind was cast immediately back to that low-lying and vulnerable area, not the financial district - they'll all be fine - did you see the number of sandbags Goldman Sachs had deployed? Not that it helped their carpark....

Anyhow, when it was all over, and after first checking my Aunt in DC and a family friend in Brooklyn had survived unscathed (they had), I started looking online for what had happened at Jamaica Bay. As expected, it had unfortunately been pummelled. The huge fire that made the headlines was in the same area, on the southern tip of Rockaway Beach, Breezy Point. I've taken the liberty of nicking some photos off the net which show some of the extent of the destruction. It's possible I could have walked past the houses below....

Some bay-side houses at Jamaica Bay after Hurricane Sandy

The oceanfront boulevard at Rockaway Beach. I stood on here photographing Laughing Gulls in 2011.

To the right of this Laughing Gull you can see the corner of the same buildings in the "after Sandy" photo above. 

That said, and notwithstanding the awful damage to coastal towns in the state of New Jersey, the real damage has been in the Caribbean, and not just this time, but every time. The low lying islands get hit by hurricane after hurricane, and scores of people lose their lives every time. This particular storm came across there first, meriting few column inches. But as soon as it hits NYC, the 'Big Apple', it's blanket news coverage for days. I guess it's what the people want. I've never been to the Caribbean, I have no first-hand experience of life there, but the few short snippets of coverage on what hurricanes mean for people there is sobering vs people having no internet access and having to live on pretzels for a few days. Still, I wouldn't to be in either of the two places right now. London seems very nice and safe. Wind's picking up a bit tonight, but I'm pretty sure it isn't a hurricane.

1 comment:

  1. The bird life in the Caribbean probably fare pretty well as one can assume the local ecology is fairly well adapted to, and probably actually benefits from, regular disturbance by hurricanes. (The people, and their death toll... not so much.) Or, closer to home, High Island, TX (I have birded there... truly beyond words), got torn apart by a hurricane a few years ago, but seems to have recovered. But this type of storm event is so unusual for the northeast coast that I don't think we can say the same thing, especially since these areas have obviously already been impacted by all sorts of other activities. Like what Katrina did to Louisiana wetlands--tore them apart, as they were already weakened.

    It might be that the birds will still benefit from the removal of human influence for some time. But it sucks pretty hard for the people involved. Here in Vermont we got off laughably easy, but then again we paid our dues with Irene last year.

    The UK is pretty remarkably low-disturbance, isn't it? No earthquakes, no tornadoes, not particularly prone to wildfire or terribly bad winter weather (except of late). Probably most often it's rain that causes problems? A green and pleasant land indeed.