Buildings Burn Along Strip of Rockaway Park

The Wall Street Journal - October 31, 2012

by Jennifer Maloney

In Rockaway Park, a beach community in Queens, N.Y., a two-block commercial strip of more than a dozen buildings continued to burn Wednesday afternoon.

The fire started Monday evening, residents said, but like the devastating fire nearby in Breezy Point that leveled more than 100 homes, the blaze at Rockaway Park went unchecked that night for hours as firefighters were hampered by floodwaters.

On Wednesday morning, A. J. Choudhary stood in front of his Papa John's franchise, which he opened less than a year ago.

Firefighters watched from the street as small flames flickered in the rubble.

"I hope I got the right insurance," said Choudhary, 38 years old, who owns half a dozen franchises in New York City and on Long Island. "It hurts to see it. The whole thing is gone."

Twelve people were employed at his franchise, five of them full-time, he said. "I'm getting calls already," he said. "People are worried about their jobs."

He said he would put them to work in his other franchises, but would have difficulty placing the full-time employees in full-time positions.

"It's going to be tough," he said.

Further down the strip on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Dr. Ilya Kleyn stood in front of the shell of his clinic, greeting patients as they came by to see the damage.

"I'm so sorry," said Rosemary Danza, giving her doctor a fierce hug. "What are we going to do?"

The doctor smiled, reassuringly. "We're going to the next block, right there," he said, pointing. Danza, 63, hugged him again, her eyes welling with tears.

Dr. Kleyn said he and about seven other doctors, some of them specialists, treated between 2,000 and 3,000 patients here. All the patients' medical records, which were kept on paper, are gone.

But he does have a patient mailing list. He said he will contact his patients as soon as he finds a new space to rent in the neighborhood.

A few blocks away, workers at a beachfront nursing home had nearly finished digging out the first floor, where sand had piled as deep as 4 feet.

The Ocean Promenade Rehabilitation and Nursing Center did not evacuate. Patients were moved Monday from the first floor to the second floor, the administrator said.

Sandy swept the Rockaway Beach boardwalk off its foundation and slammed a section of it into the 120-bed facility, breaking windows on the first floor.

The administrator, Laurie Palladino, estimated that damage to the building was in the millions. She was also facing overtime costs: she had double the regular staff on duty, all of them working overtime since Sunday.

The building, unlike its neighbors, had power from a generator and running water. Food and other supplies were being delivered.

"First, we'll get the water out of the basement," she said. "Then get the elevators running."