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The Free Republic of the Rockaways

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Overnight on Beach 74th Street
Photographer Pari Dukovic spent twelve hours in the Rockaway dark with Natalya Kagno and her daughter Nadezhda.

Compared with their neighbors in Rockaway Beach, Natalya Kagno, 55, and her daughter, Nadezhda Blot, 11, are the lucky ones. They can heat their oceanside apartment on Beach 74th Street with gas flames from their stove. They can bathe with a washcloth and boiled water because they have some of the area’s few working faucets. The only light outside is from NYPD generators.

“It’s just scary when you get out of the car and it’s, like, so lonely and there’s no one walking around,” says Nadezhda, who with her mother welcomed New York into their home one night last week. “You go into a building, and it’s like nothing changes. It’s night, you walk in, and it’s even darker and so silent. When I see someone else with a flashlight, I’m like, ‘Phew.’”

While waiting by a generator to charge their phones (not that there’s much cell service), and warming their hands by its exhaust pipe, Natalya and Nadezhda discovered a volunteer site, a block from a row of burned-down homes, run by YANA (You Are Never Alone). They’ve been going back all day on weekends and every day after work and school to hand out food and distribute supplies. They call their fellow volunteers “our family”—a collection of Italians, Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, and do-gooders of all stripes who’ve been sleeping on the volunteer-center floor. “How are these people going to live without me?” asks Natalya. “And how am I going to live without them?”

Nadezhda is the only student in her class at P.S. 206 living in a disaster zone. Every night, she balances three flashlights on jars around her notepad so she can do problem sets on fractional math and read the teen novel What Mr. Mattero Did. She’s been keeping warm her two parakeets, Christmas and New Year, with heavy blankets. When her class wrote essays about their Sandy experiences, Nadezhda’s was three pages, “because I had so much to say.” She read it aloud, and “I was so emotional when I was reading it, it was like I was about to cry,” she says. After school let out, her teacher handed her canned goods and spaghetti. She donated them to the center.
—Jada Yuan


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