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Post-Sandy cleanup brings Queens together

Two boys view damage in a neighborhood in

Two boys view damage in a neighborhood in the Breezy Point area of Queens in New York after fire destroyed about 80 homes as a result of Hurricane Sandy. (Oct. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Help arrived in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods of Queens after Sandy left -- although much of it came from unlikely places.

A group of Richmond Hill residents gathered in the middle of a busy thoroughfare in Broad Channel offering food and drink. Families from Forest Hills and Brooklyn drove to Rockaway Beach with carloads of supplies. And two Manhattan real estate agents spent the day at a Belle Harbor church, giving food and words of comfort.

"I cannot even begin to explain how much this means, not only to me, but to the whole community," said Rockaway Beach resident Mary O'Sullivan, choking on her words as she watched two Forest Hills women and their four children unload a van full of water, propane, food and more. "We haven't seen anybody [to help] before now."

O'Sullivan's daughter, Kate, 25, who lives in Boston, organized an online fundraising drive, which brought in more than $8,400 -- money she used to buy supplies and generators to help relatives and her parents' neighbors. Forest Hills residents Laura Anthony-Jones, 41, and Yifat Tam-Rich, 44, saw the website -- and decided to take their children with them to deliver supplies in person.

"When somebody needs help, you help," said Tam-Rich, who brought her children -- Daniel, 10, and Ella, 8. "And it's important that the kids see that in a moment, everything can disappear."

Manhattan residents Anne Marie Moriarty and Mary Ellen Rodriguez, who work at the Corcoran Group in Manhattan, stayed for the day, volunteering at a donation site at St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor.

"People have lost their homes. They have nothing," said Moriarty.

And Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, resident Linda Graffagnino said, that's why she showed up with diapers, clothing and other supplies. "I'm horrified," she said of the area's damage.

Nearby, Halloween decorations hung listlessly around the gate to a home now reduced to burned rubble and a brick frame. A block away, on Beach 130th Street, an entire row of homes and a popular restaurant had been destroyed by a fire during the hurricane, area residents said.

Any help, however informal, was particularly welcome, they noted, because they hadn't been able to find official aid from the Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Late Friday afternoon, FEMA started its operations out of a Waldbaum's parking lot in Rockaway Beach..

But in neighborhoods blocks away from FEMA's mobile unit, no one knew it was there.

"All we want is information, so we can get help, but there's nothing," said Rockaway Beach resident Steve Kearns, 59. "I want someone to give us some answers down here. I feel extremely cut off."

Barbara Buffolino, who rents an apartment in a large beachfront building, said the lack of power and water is only part of what worries her.

"We're very, very isolated and it's very scary at night," said Buffolino, noting that she and her neighbors are concerned about looting and getting around.

By midafternoon, Sunset Park residents from a newly created grassroots effort called Occupy Sandy, had arrived on Shore Front Parkway with water, diapers and other supplies.

Across the bridge, in Broad Channel, Richmond Hill resident Yadwinder Singh, along with friends from his temple, handed out rice and beans, hot tea and bottled water to residents and passersby from his table on a small island in the middle of Cross Bay Boulevard.

"We're just trying to help our community," Singh said.

In Howard Beach, residents and workers said they're still waiting.

"It is like a forgotten area, Howard Beach," said Peter Sanzillo 43, as he cleaned an area bagel cafe that had been flooded.

Queens residents said they weren't done. As she was ready to leave Rockaway, Tam-Rich stopped and turned back to Kate O'Sullivan: "We're already planning to come back with more," she promised.

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