For the tiny community of Hamilton Beach, nestled in the southeast corner of Howard Beach, the effects of Hurricane Sandy were unprecedentedly devastating.
The storm surge flooded the entire neighborhood, destroying homes and cars, while sending boats and docks from Hawtree Creek onto the neighborhood’s narrow streets.
Cut off from the rest of the world, the residents of Hamilton Beach waited for help. They were surprised by what came.
Two days after the storm, a caravan of food and supplies rolled down 102nd Street into the neighborhood. The rest of Queens came to the aid of the tiny bayfront neighborhood that often feels like a forgotten land.
Assemblywoman-elect Nily Rozic, then just a candidate, arrived in the neighborhood with 40 pizzas. Her future colleagues Assemblymen Francisco Moya (D-Corona) and Mike Den Dekker (D-Jackson Heights) arrived with food and supplies. They were joined by Councilman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst).
“Everybody came out of the woodwork,” said Mitch Udowitch, former captain of the West Hamilton Beach Fire Department.
The helpers showed up as Udowitch and several other volunteers were trying to keep the firehouse operational after the storm. They lost their vehicles and one boat was swept out into Jamaica Bay.
“I don’t know how these people even found Hamilton Beach,” he joked, noting the neighborhood only has one road in and is often hard to find.
As the cold, dark nights turned into days, more help arrived — Comptroller John Liu came and Resorts World Casino New York City sent hot meals.
“All of a sudden we had this food pantry going,” Udowitch said.
Many residents of Hamilton Beach were still living in their powerless, cold homes a week after Hurricane Sandy, he said, but the firehouse was becoming a makeshift town square The residents living in the neighborhood are being fed, but are patiently waiting for the lights to come back on.
Meanwhile Assembly staff and other volunteers shuttled food and clothing from Assemblyman Mike Miller’s (D-Woodhaven) office to the hardest-hit areas.
On the other side of Howard Beach, local eateries were making sausage and peppers and other favorites in a mobile food cart outside of St. Helen School on 84th Street and 157th Avenue, bringing the aroma of Italian food to the neighborhood that previously smelled of oil, gas, burning rubber and stagnant seawater.
An emotional Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway), who represents Hamilton Beach, said he was touched by the response from his current and future colleagues.
“I literally cried,” he said, fighting back tears. “They took time to organize each other, reach out to restaurants and not just to drop off food — they gave people compassion and warmth. I could not have been prouder to be a member of the Assembly. They didn’t have to do this.”