Belle Harbor, NEW YORK (PIX11) — The beachfront town that lost dozens of its residents in the 9/11 terror attacks and then had an American Airlines jet plunge to its streets two months later was already emotionally scarred as a community when Hurricane Sandy flooded its homes and businesses on October 29, 2012.
Now, with its boardwalk and dunes destroyed, any mention of heavy rain is cause for concern.
When asked if Belle Harbor and neighboring towns are traumatized, Rev. Richard Ahlemeyer — pastor of St. Camillus and Virgilius Roman Catholic Church in Rockaway Park — replied, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Speaking of his parishioners, he said, “When they hear heavy rain, high tides, and winds, they realize the beach is gone.” Father Ahlemeyer told us that because of beach erosion and the destroyed boardwalk, Rockaway residents notice the water coming closer to their homes during high tide.
Ahlemeyer also told PIX11, “all the parishes on the peninsula have had a dramatic loss in church attendance on Sundays,” as many residents either sought emergency housing with relatives or through FEMA or simply moved away for good, “like one family that got 11 feet of water in Belle Harbor and moved to Forest Hills.” Ahlemeyer added, “We’ve had a number of people who are not coming back.”
Yet, many Belle Harbor residents are steadfast about remaining.
“I’m a Rockaway girl all the way,” said Peggy Whelan — a mother of 3 — outside her home on Beach 125th Street. “That’s what I live for. The ocean and the water.”
Whelan then proudly showed us the pretty garden she re-planted — after Sandy had decimated it last fall.
“I think the people are very resilient and have a good attitude,” said Joanne Shea. “We certainly hope it doesn’t happen again.”