It didn’t take long after Hurricane Sandy’s tidal surge pummeled our coastline for the rumor mill to start churning out destruction anecdotes. According to the mill, Kinsgborough Community College was washed away. Its T buildings were in shambles, its iconic lighthouse-crowned MAC building toppled over and parking lots torn asunder.
We’re glad to report that’s not the case, but in the early aftermath, it was hard to say what was going on.
An employee of the school who asked not to be named because he was not cleared to speak for the school was the first to tell us that the T buildings might not survive. They were submerged, and their metal frames eroded quickly in the saltwater, we were told. Most of the buildings, he said, had flooded, including computer server facilities, which may have been the cause of our bounced e-mails to public relations personnel.
Another person who did not work for the school, but does have an office on campus told us that the school was on lockdown, with no one but cleanup crews allowed in. When they finally got a glimpse during a visit to obtain some files, the person reported that they had no idea how the school was ever going to be up and running again.
None of the rumors were helped, of course, by dramatic videos and photos of damage in Manhattan Beach, or the one above, filmed on Kingsborough’s campus as the tidal surge pushed in by Paul Risi of the Maritime program, who “bravely came to the college during the storm to make sure that all the boats were secured. We did not lose one of our ships,” according to the school’s Facebook page.
The school being on lock down helped cleanup crews prevail. When classes opened on Tuesday, November 6, we’re told it looked almost as if nothing had happened.
Here’s what one professor reported to us on the first day of classes:
While walking onto the campus of KCC one is stuck by the stark difference between the conditions on campus and the surrounding neighborhood of Manhattan Beach. Kingsborough has been cleaned and primed for students returning to campus. Electricity is flowing. Food courts and the main cafeteria are open. The roads and footpaths are free of debris. The only major evidence of the storm are piles of chopped logs near the S- and T-buildings. Many trees have survived. The added difficulties of getting to campus notwithstanding, the campus is still active. Classrooms are, of course, considerably more empty. Everyone seems grateful to be back at school because we are lucky to still have a campus to go to.
Credit for the revival of course goes to the school’s grounds crew, which is quickly becoming legendary for their quick cleanup response not just after Sandy, but also Irene and the blizzard of 2010.
But we think the school’s president, Dr. Regina Peruggi deserves a few laurels. Aside from overseeing the quick response, Peruggi directed staff to check in on students, finding that thousands lived in Zone A areas. She visited shelters, spoke to her students directly, and handed out Metrocards to help them get back to school.
“We’re located on the tip of Manhattan Beach Peninsula, in the evacuation A Zone,” Peruggi told Columbia University’s Teachers College. “We’re surrounded by water on three sides, so that gives you an idea of how hard we were hit. We had flooded classrooms, debris washing up from everywhere – even decks from people’s houses in Breezy Point. But the real kicker is that we went through our database and discovered that we have over 2,000 students, faculty and staff living A Zone areas – Gerritsen Beach, Coney Island, Staten Island, Brighton Beach, Canarsie, the Rockaways.”
The article continues:
“We created a disbursement center, with food, clothing, diapers and other supplies,” she says. “One of our student affairs people told me about a young woman – a student – who was looking at the coats, and when she found one that fit her, there was a price tag on it. She started to walk away, and one of our people came over and told her that the coat was free. And this poor woman fell to her knees, sobbing. She said that it was the first warm piece of clothing she’d had in a week.”
Peruggi recalls her own conversation with young Pakistani students who had been living in a shelter in Coney Island.
“I asked them if they needed help with transportation and told them they could take a MetroCard for free,” she says. “They were afraid at first – they didn’t believe it. And then once I convinced them we were for real, they opened up. They said they had been told that day to leave the shelter and go back to their home. And when they did, there was nothing left.”
Staff, too, have suffered. “One maintenance worker, whose home had been destroyed, told us that the only clothes he had were his KCC maintenance uniform, which he’d been wearing when he left,” Peruggi says.
… Thanks to what Peruggi calls “an incredible clean-up effort by our amazing staff,” Kingsborough was able to open up for staff within a week after Sandy, and for students shortly afterward. Along with the disbursement center, the college has organized free breakfasts, and its Culinary Arts program has been preparing hot lunches for those in need.
Meanwhile, during the storm and after it, the school kept students, faculty and alumni informed through frantic updates on its Facebook page, offering weather updates, useful tools like carpooling information, volunteer opportunities, and locations around the city where victims could find food, clothing and shelter.
They also kept them informed on how the cleanup was coming along, though it started out sounding as if the Facebook page manager was a little overwhelmed, with posts like this:
Reports are campus is a muddy mess. Beach is nearly gone. Sand and mud everywhere in buildings. Would not count on classes this week. Nothing definite but going to need awhile to clean up.
Just spoke with some people at KCC. The rocks that used to be part of the jetty by the beach are now up on the beach patio. Many if not mst of the offices in T buildings are filled with mud. They most likely are not usable for the near future. Cafeteria and MAC both flooded. Maritime lost most of finger docks but boats are stored and safe
But those eventually became more hopeful, like this post on November 5:
Just walked the entire campus and went into the buildings. First. let me congratulate our amazing Buildings and grounds people at KCC. If you weren’t truly looking or walking the seawall you would never know a Hurricane hit Kingsborough. The seawall is filled with debris from Breezy Point to the Rockaways consisting of everything from docks, to couches, yard fences, to literally a kitchen sink. The new benches along the seawall made of metal are bent back so far you could call them beds instead of benches showing the power of the storm. They did an amazing job cleaning up the beach, the cafeteria, the farm, the T buildings and so forth. So proud of them. Many ,many,trees gone, sand and mud all over the place. But KCC is standing strong and beautiful. Brooklyn and KCC can take a hit and still keep strong.
None of that’s to say there’s not still plenty of work to do on campus. Our professor notes at least one concern:
There is a concern about mold, especially in the T-buildings. these are buildings that already had a mold problem. Though the outside walls are dry, the concern is that the interior sheetrock is still wet. With winter coming, heat will cause the mold to propagate and spread. I’ve spoken with other professors and this is a concern of theirs.
And the Facebook page indicates they’re still looking for cleanup help in specific areas:
KCC Urban Farm was submerged under water and debris during Superstorm Sandy, and we need your help cleaning and rebuilding. We have submitted samples of our soil to various labs to ensure safe food production next season, so for now we are working on closing the farm for winter.
KCC Urban Farm Volunteer Day
Saturday, November 17, 11-2
Between T8 and T2
ALL ARE WELCOME. Dress warmly! We have work gloves and over-boots to lend.
And donations for students:
Donations have been pouring in, but KCC can still use more. If you can donate anything of the following items, please bring them to Room U-219: cups of soup; toilet paper; cleaning supplies (e.g, bleach, Fantastik); heavy gloves (for cleaning); sponges; large, heavy garbage bags; soap; towels; candles; batteries and flashlights. (At this time, we do NOT need clothing.) Thank you!
But, all in all, the school has made a tremendous bounce back that will hopefully serve as a model for the rest of our community.