Poles in Rockaways Defenseless Against Sandy

Burned buildings in Rockaway Park, Queens (Photo by Anna Brzostek via Nowy Dziennik)

As the Rockaways in Queens continue to pick up the remnants left by Hurricane Sandy, Polish residents who lost their businesses to flooding and fire recount their nightmare to Nowy Dziennik. The translation below is from an article originally in Polish. 

Eden Delicatessen, which has been a fixture in the Rockaways for 16 years and the only Polish deli there, was completely flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Also gone is European Hair Salon, which was engulfed in flames on the night of the hurricane.

Some 4,000 Polish immigrants live in this part of Queens. Hurricane Sandy practically swept that part of the city off the surface of the earth. With burnt or flooded houses and businesses, crashed cars, ruined beach boardwalk, heaps of debris, paper and garbage lying around, the area looks like a battleground. There is no power, telephone connection nor any other kind of communication here.

Eden Delicatessen after Hurricane Sandy (Photo by Anna Brzostek via Nowy Dziennik)

“I don’t think anybody predicted the real dimension of the damage Hurricane Sandy would do here,” said Aleksandra Brzostek, co-owner of Eden Delicatessen. “At 7 p.m. on Monday night, people were still pumping out small amounts of water coming onto the streets, to stop it from flooding their basements. Nobody predicted that in an hour, a big flood wave would make their efforts futile. What happened later cannot be described in words,” Brzostek said.

Rockaway Park residents thought that the worst that could happen to them, just like last year during Hurricane Irene, would be some flooding. That’s why many of them refused to evacuate and chose to stay put and guard their properties.

“At some point, the water started raising rapidly, forcing us to seek shelter on the second floor of our building. At the same time, a huge fire broke out engulfing buildings on the other side of the street. Gone in the flames are houses and businesses,” Brzostek said.

One of the businesses burnt is European Hair Salon, owned by Aleksandra Kowalenko, a Brooklyn resident. “I went there yesterday to see the damage and I was shocked by what I saw. Practically everything is entirely burnt down. Our place is simply not there anymore,” she said.

The fire destroyed some 15 stores and service shops. The owners are now unemployed and not likely to rebuild, at least not quickly.

“I am completely shocked. I lost everything, including all business-related documents. To make matters worse, I was only insured against the flood. We didn’t think about fire,” said Kowalenko, who does not yet know what she was going to do next. “If I decide to open my salon again, it will certainly not be in this area.”

Aleksandra and her sister Bozena Brzostek, who co-own Eden, are not losing hope. “Our car is running well, so we take people shopping to Brooklyn and bring essentials back to Rockaway Park,” says Bozena Brzostek, who believes they will be able to have the store up and running again.

The damage and losses the Brzosteks have incurred are huge, though. “The wall of water pushing against the store made a hole in the wall under the window and flooded the inside. The water completely filled the first floor of the two-level delicatessen, reaching up to the meat refrigerators on the second floor,” said Aleksandra Brzostek, adding that the damage is inconceivable. “All that is left from the store’s stock are goods located on top shelves on the second floor.”

Apart from damage caused by the wind, water and fire, home and business owners in Rockaway Park are also facing another problem – looters. “In front of my eyes, a couple of people were carrying out big plasma TVs that I had hung on the wall. Ignoring my presence, the robber put his arm through the hole in the wall and grabbed all he could reach. The store next door was broken into during the night. They stole all the cigarettes they could find,” says Brzostek.

Despite the great losses and traumatic experiences, the Brzostek sisters are not losing hope and say they are grateful they didn’t have worse things happen to them. “I saw people crying like babies, because they lost their entire property in the fire. We are grateful to be alive and that our children are safe. We need to stay strong and carry on,” said one of the sisters.

One Comment

  1. Paul Richter says:

    Please tell Ola that we are heartbroken that her store, European Hair Salon, burned down. She styled our hair for many years. We wish she would come back to Rockaway. For Rockaway to lose Ola, who was so kind and generous, and a great hair stylist, is a terrible loss to our community. She had such a beautiful store and business on one of the more difficult areas of Rockaway Park. Please forward my e-mail address to her and tell her that if she needs anything, don’t hesitate to contact me. Please tell her that Paul, JoAnne and Susan feel so bad for her and we wish much better things for her in the future.

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