November 2, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay N.J. activist: Sandy left behind ‘massive destruction’
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Fire Island, Sandy

Bay water inundates the harbor in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on Oct. 29 (Photo courtesy of Karen Boss)

The head of New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization on Wednesday said Superstorm Sandy devastated his state.

“Hurricane Sandy has left massive destruction in her aftermath,” said Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein in a YouTube video shot on a street in Teaneck in Bergen County with down trees and power lines in the background.

Goldstein urged his organization’s members and supporters to keep in regular contact with the elderly, young people and those with disabilities directly impacted by the storm who may need someone to pick up their prescriptions or buy them other basic supplies.

“On behalf of our entire Board of Directors, I extend to you our love, our prayers and most profound gratitude for being there for one another during this time of need.”

Sandy’s storm surge inundated large swaths of the New Jersey coastline, New York City, the South Shore of Long Island and Fire Island as it made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., on Monday night. The storm killed at least 90 people in the United States and dozens of others in the Caribbean.

Villas, N.J., residents Vince Grimm and Will Kratz, whom the Washington Blade interviewed in August shortly after they celebrated their 51st anniversary, rode out Sandy in their bay front home north of Cape May. The couple lost power and water during the storm, but Grimm told friends in an e-mail he and Kratz have been able to run a generator and their gas-powered fireplace.

The storm did not damage the couple’s home and property.

“Our beach is a disaster and we lost our sand fences, but the dune is intact considering we got hit [during] a high tide with a full moon,” said Grimm. “Actually our street, 11 blocks long, has virtually no damage considering we are sitting on a sand dune along the bay.”

Sandy’s winds ‘unlike anything I’ve heard’

The storm killed at least 37 people in New York City, while a fast-moving fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the flooded Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens late on Monday.

A record storm surge that nearly topped 14 feet in lower Manhattan inundated large swaths of the five boroughs, subway tunnels under the East and Hudson Rivers and the Queens-Midtown and High L. Carey Tunnels that link Manhattan with Queens and Brooklyn respectively.

A limited number of subway and commuter train lines are once again running in portions of the city and metropolitan area, but bus service below 23rd Street in Manhattan remains suspended at night because the lack of electricity has created dangerous driving conditions. More than a quarter of a million customers in Manhattan remained in the dark as of 4:30 a.m. on Thursday.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy few days here,” gay New York City Council candidate Corey Johnson told the Blade on Wednesday. His apartment on West 15th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is close to the Eighth Avenue building that lost its facade during the height of the storm. “All I could hear was howling winds. It was unlike anything I’ve heard in my 12 years in New York.”

Cindi Creager, the former communications director of the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village, was inside her West Village apartment with her wife during the storm. The couple is currently staying with a friend who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but Creager told the Blade she feels fortunate she and her wife escaped the storm unscathed.

“The wind was howling and whipping [outside] the window. And it was scary,” she said. “We had power and we didn’t and it was total darkness outside the window. And that’s when it felt very scary. You just start to realize how fleeting life can be. We did very well considering.”

Cathy Renna of Renna Communications rode out Sandy in her centuries old farmhouse on Shelter Island between Long Island’s North and South Forks. She told the Blade local utility crews restored the electricity to her home roughly 24 hours after the worst of the storm had passed.

Sandy brought several large trees down across Shelter Island, but Renna stressed she feels she and her family “were really lucky.”

“I grew up on Long Island,” she said, noting her sister’s friend who lives in Lindenhurst along the Great South Bay in southwestern Suffolk County lost everything to the storm. “I have never, ever seen winds like that. It was terrifying, but it was only for a few hours.”

Storm devastates Fire Island, forces LGBT groups to close

Sandy caused widespread flooding and severe beach erosion throughout Fire Island. Dozens of oceanfront homes in Fire Island Pines sustained damage from the storm surge. The high tides also damaged bulkheads and bay front board walks in the hamlet and neighboring Cherry Grove.

The storm also forced the Empire State Pride Agenda, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and other LGBT advocacy groups to close their lower Manhattan offices because of the power outage and in some cases flooding.

“Our New York-based staff members are safe and working from home with limited resources,” said GLAAD spokesperson Seth Adam on the organization’s website on Tuesday. “Today, our thoughts are with all those families affected by Hurricane Sandy, as well as first responders working to keep us safe.”

Officials cancelled the city’s annual Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. The storm also derailed Splash Bar and other lower Manhattan gay bars and clubs’ holiday festivities because of the blackout. Restaurants and other businesses in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood west of Times Square that did not lose electricity during Sandy remain open.

“Day 3 of no power,” said Gym Sports Bar, which is on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, in a message to patrons. “Our thoughts are with you out there. As soon as our lights are back on we will be back on the field. Stay safe out there Gym peeps.”

Restoring power and full subway service remain New York City officials’ top priorities.

“The subway lines are really the veins, arteries and lifeblood of the city,” said Johnson. “People are basically stuck unless they’re going to work or are able to get on a bus.”

Lesbian New York City Council candidate Yetta Kurland, who said her building has run out of the water because of the lack of electricity, said the closure of New York University Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital because of flooding has left lower Manhattan residents more vulnerable. Kurland also pointed out people with disabilities and others who are unable to leave their apartments are unable to obtain food, water and ice at Union Square and other distribution points.

“There’s a large relief effort,” she said. “The city’s doing a great job at this point, but there are a lot of homebound people who cannot get to Union Square.”

Gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm said the situation in his Queens district that includes the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst “is pretty much okay” outside of downed trees. Overcrowded subway stations and gas shortages have become a problem, but Dromm said the gay bars and other businesses along bustling Roosevelt Avenue that were closed during the storm have since re-opened.

“Everything is back up and operational in Jackson Heights itself,” said Dromm. “We were very lucky.”

Gay New Yorkers persevere in spite of Sandy

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which is the country’s largest LGBT synagogue, will hold its weekly Shabbat service by candlelight at a Manhattan church later on Friday. Its group for older congregants will meet at a nearby diner beforehand for dinner.

Elmo, a restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, on Wednesday served drinks in spite of the lack of electricity.

Even as New Yorkers try to return to some sense of normalcy, they continue to reflect upon the storm that devastated their city.

“You go from this thriving city uptown to just a ghost town downtown, which is really scary,” said Creager, who briefly returned to her apartment on Wednesday to pick up more clothes and other belongings. “There was a lot of traffic yesterday going up and down the West Side Highway because there’s no subway. There’s that feeling in the air, even on the Upper West Side like something major has happened.”

Dromm, who taught in the city’s public schools for 25 years until his 2009 election to the City Council, said he has “never seen anything like” Sandy “in my life in Queens.” He also applauded New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for raising the issue of climate change during the storm’s aftermath.

“It’s a very important question,” said Dromm. “It’s really scary when you think about lower Manhattan—areas of lower Manhattan being flooded out like that. Government wasn’t even able to really operate in this storm. It’s very, very scary.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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