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Any Port in the Storm

Eytan Kobre

A year after Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern US, many residents of hard-hit Far Rockaway are still waiting for help in patching up their homes and their lives. Sometimes solving emergencies goes by the rules, but for assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who always had a solution for his constituents, “This time there was no playbook.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Phil is a Far Rockaway native in his early 30s who, in his two years in Albany, has earned a reputation as a connected, can-do elected official with a bright political future ahead of him. A personable, savvy former mayoral aide with a yeshivah guy’s down-to-earth demeanor, he represents a sprawling, diverse district that extends from Irish and Italian strongholds like Howard Beach, Belle Harbor, and Breezy Point (where, on top of wind and flood devastation, a raging fire wiped out 111 homes) to largely black Arverne to solidly frum Far Rockaway and Bayswater.

Phil and Esther Goldfeder are raising their family in a modest home in the very heart of Far Rockaway’s thriving frum community, just down the block from the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, where Phil went to high school. But withSandy’s approach on that fateful Monday last October, le chateau Goldfeder also found itself in the very heart of one of the hardest-hit areas in the entire region.

Sandyturned out to be a cataclysmic event that left over 100 dead and tens of thousands homeless, and now ranks as the second-costliest storm in US history, with damages assessed at $68 billion. But, Phil recalls, just days before the storm hit the eastern US, while it was still raging through theBahamas, no one really knew what to expect, and many assumed it would fizzle out at landfall, much like the previous year’s Hurricane Irene. When the storm made landfall Sunday night, it was in fact equivalent to what the East Coast had experienced a year earlier with Irene. But Irene would be mere child’s play compared to what was yet to come the following day.

“There’s one fellow in Broad Channel — an island in the middle ofJamaicaBay— who’s our storm watcher. If there’s a storm that’s six months away, he’s already sending e-mails saying ‘keep an eye on this one.’ And by Friday, he had already sent out 12 or 14 updates, which is a lot. Sunday morning I started getting a lot of calls from people in the neighborhood asking whether they should evacuate, but at that point the mayor hadn’t yet called for evacuation, so my response was, ‘Do whatever you feel is in the best interest of your family.’”

By Sunday Phil’s office was already in full swing, sending out updates on where food was going to be, where relief centers were going to be, doing their best to piece together and disseminate as much information as possible. But by Sunday afternoon, he was already riding around with the police department, speaking to community leaders and trying to get the message out to evacuate as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Monday morning dawned to a frightening scene: all the protections that were in place — such as the huge piles the parks department had built up along the beaches — had already been washed away. 

 

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