Eric Metcalf, an assistant professor at York College, fled his home in the Rockaways before Superstorm Sandy came ashore. In the three days that followed, Metcalf and his wife and a friend slept on cots in his office in York’s Department of Performing and Fine Arts. Outside, the hallways were filled with evacuees. The people from Breezy Point, Metcalf recalls, smelled of smoke from the fires that had consumed a large swath of their neighborhood.
When Metcalf returned home to the Rockaways, he found a dramatically altered landscape where flooded homes lined sand-covered streets strewn with dead cars. There was no electrical power, no running water and no other public services. At night, it was darker than he’d ever seen it before.
“This is like something out of a nightmare,” Metcalf told Clarion two weeks after the storm. “You can’t imagine how bad it is.”
Metcalf’s third-story condominium apartment on Beach 92nd Street was not directly damaged by the rising seas or the storm’s high winds, but his building’s basement sustained eight feet of flooding. He and his neighbors have worked 12 hours a day to pump water out of their buildings and gut the sections that are at risk, hoping to stop mold from taking hold and getting a grip on their building.
“The psychological toll has been high,” Metcalf said. “Neighbors you’ve known for a long time have been acting irrationally because they can’t come to grips with the toll of their losses.”
Rockaways residents have had to drive to the mainland for all basics, even as fuel shortages have become a fact of life, Metcalf said. National Guard troops, stationed at Floyd Bennett Field, patrol the streets in response to reports of overnight looting. Otherwise, the presence of government and major relief agencies has been minimal.
Metcalf is taking junior faulty release time this semester and is teaching only one class week. He was slated to return to the classroom on November 15, 2012. Meanwhile, he says, his life as an academic seems very remote.
“It’s very hard to imagine going back to the classroom,” he said. “There are so many people in need here.”