‘It’s that time’: Coney Island hangs on, but the view from Surfside Gardens is grim

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There’s a sandy ring, about chest high, on the office windows of Coney Island USA, showing the ocean’s high-water mark.

The nonprofit organization, a repository of local lore and color, was submerged for several hours in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The building’s sideshow theater, where such freaks, wonders, and human curiosities as Serpentina and the Great Fredini regularly tread the boards, was destroyed, as was the first-floor bar and the gift shop. But the museum’s invaluable collection of Coney Island memorabilia, housed on the second floor, emerged unscathed.

On Thursday, Coney Island USA staff gutted the building’s interior. Several swept mud and sand onto the sidewalk, while others dragged out furniture and other wet refuse, including a framed proclamation from Borough President Marty Markowitz and a plastic ghoul baby. Although the city has reached out to local business, the current shortage of hardcore cleaning supplies, such as generators, pumps and fans, made progress slow.

“We’re pretty much cleaning up with toothbrushes and sponges,” said museum director Aaron Beebe, a respirator mask hanging from his neck.

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Coney Island was one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the hurricane. As residents took inventory of the damage, the sidewalks of Mermaid Ave., which runs through the center of the neighborhood, slowly piled up with sodden trash, waiting for collection. About half the residents were still without power, and food and water were in short supply.

By Thursday evening, many residents were growing frustrated with the shortages.

Amar Rahman, 21, was making his third trip up to his 13th floor apartment in the Surfside Gardens homes, a city housing project. The elevators had been out since Sunday. Several buildings in the area had seen their power restored, but he was trudging up the stairs, lugging a gallon water bottle.

“We didn’t want to go to an evacuation center,” he said. “We heard it was horrible—lines for the bathroom, food shortages.”

Rahman, a business major at Kingsborough College, rode out the storm with his parents and his 17-year-old brother, who also live in the apartment. When the Hurricane hit, Rahman watched the water rise from his bedroom window. At one point, he saw two people, caught on the sidewalk, climb onto the roof of a car and shout for help.

The next morning, he watched people steal from the Mermaid Avenue Rent-a-Center and Rite Aid.

“One guy came out with a flatscreen TV,” Rahman said. “He ran for his life.”

Rahman and his family stocked up on supplies before the storm, but they ran short of water after several days and have had to resupply, several times. The city has given his no firm guess about when water and power would return.

“Are there any petitions going on?” he said. “Something people can sign?”

Physically, Rahman’s block had a long way to go. At the base of the tower, totaled cars were scattered across 31st street, covered in mud and debris. Vehicles trying to get through drove on the sidewalk.

In the meantime, residents were doing the best they could. In one of the complex’s parking lots, several men were trying to maneuver a minivan with a dead engine into a free spot. A skinny 11-year-old boy was in the driver’s seat. The power steering was shot, and the boy grimaced as he battled with the wheel.

When the car was parked, the boy’s father thanked the other men.

“No thing,” said one man. “It’s that time.”