Since the hurricane hit, nobody is visiting Coney Island for amusement. FEMA tents are set up down the street from the Cyclone rollercoaster, and the walls of Nathan’s hotdog stand are stained – like the rest of the buildings – where the water flooded six feet high. A heavy police presence on the street is on the lookout for looters who have been taking advantage of vulnerable local businesses. Residents are trying to figure out how to clean up the filthy water and sludge that sits stagnant in their homes and stores. Soggy garbage covered in black slime is piled all over the streets. The bitter-cold seaside air smells toxic and numbs the wet hands of relief workers. Coney Island is one of the most devastated neighborhoods in New York City.
Eddie Carlo, 59, has lived in Coney Island all his life. “Nobody expected it to be as bad as it is,” he said, “No matter how ready you get, you can never be ready for Mother Nature. “
On the night of the storm, Carlo was staying with his girlfriend in Long Island. He returned to Coney Island as soon as he could to make sure his 80-year-old mother got her medication. She was safe on the eighth floor of her building in the Coney Island Houses, but Carlo worried about her in those hours the water stopped him from checking in.
“I was gonna get to her no matter what. I would’ve walked if I had to,” he said.
Carlo’s mother, who suffers from dementia, is now staying in her granddaughter’s apartment in downtown Brooklyn, which he says was already overcrowded. For those who have been displaced, options are limited. Shelters are already full, and transportation is challenging.
Rafael Biciso, 59, is also a life-long Coney Island resident whose home was destroyed. He has been staying with a friend in another overcrowded apartment.
“I feel crazy, just crazy. I lost everything!” he shouted as he shook his head.
Biciso has been helping his friend, Hilario Gomez, clean out his store, T&M Mini Mart. They are emptying the building completely. Nothing that was inside the store is salvageable. It was completely flooded.
“I didn’t get any help from FEMA. They wanted to give me a loan. I don’t want to take it because then I have to pay it back,” said Gomez. He plans to use his savings to fund the restoration of his store, but he isn’t sure that he has enough.
Alex Movshovich, 32, owns a medical office in the neighborhood. He estimates that he is facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the building, along with extensive equipment losses.
“Insurance is starting to play games, you know, FEMA doesn’t cover small businesses like they say they do. They refer you to the SBA, who will give you a loan, so pretty much you’re on your own,” he said.
In Coney Island, nearly every store has been destroyed, nearly every person lost something, and nearly everybody is in need. Many of these destroyed businesses do not have insurance to cover the losses, and it is impossible to say how quickly they’ll be back on their feet.
Walter Gauto has only been back to his apartment once since the storm. He lived in the Seagate community, a private residential area that was totally flooded by Sandy. He said he could not go back again because it was “too depressing.”
Gauto is the manager of Sneakertown on Mermaid Avenue. His business has also been destroyed. He is trying to put the pieces of his life back together since Sandy turned everything upside down.
“Little by little, you pump the water out the best you can. That’s all you can do.”