Hurricane Sandy, Rockaway Deaths Under-Reported

By Jen Benepe, Dec. 20, 2012

This morning the NY Times printed the story, finally about how people in the Rockaways suffered from cold,

7-11 Seagirt Ave. seven days after Hurricane Sandy was cold, without water, and without electricity (c) Benepe

lack of water, and in some cases death in the week following Hurricane Sandy.

They reporters pointed to the “myth” that was propagated in part by Cyclists International that four people had died at 7-11 Seagirt Ave.

Actually, what CI did report is that four were “said” to have died.  We never actually said that four had died. It’s great to have your words in print so that history and quotes cannot be altered for the purpose of forwarding a specific story line.

But it more importantly in the aftermath of the storm, the news of death, and its proper reporting by city officials, Nassau County, and nearby hospitals was as chaotic as was the scene on the ground.

Indeed, there is still no final word from surrounding hospitals about how many people in the days after the storm, nor whom, because that information has been dubbed “confidential.”

Despite statements from several residents in the building in the Far Rockaways, Queens that they had witnessed bodies being taken out following the storm, we were not able to confirm those deaths either with Ellen Baracove the Chief Medical Examiner for the city, nor with the local hospitals following those statements.

However, we did have eyewitness accounts which we published. Why did we do that? Because after calling Baracove multiple times, she told us that they do not record every death, only the suspicious ones.

The closest hospital to 7-11 Seagirt, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, had been overwhelmed by patients in the seven days following the storm.

St. John’s spokeswoman Ms. Penny Chen confirmed that on Nov. 4 there had been deaths, but would not confirm the names, the number, nor addresses of the deceased. Those names were not redundant with the list of names being compiled at the Medical Examiner’s office because they were deemed “natural” deaths.

An ambulance waiting outside 711 Seagirt on Nov. 3, days after the storm (c) Benepe

Even in the aftermath of the storm, a heart attack would be considered “natural.” Even if it were brought on by cold? Yes, said Ms. Chen, that was conceivable. Even if the person was sitting in their apartment, freezing and unable to move, was brought in and then died? Yes. that was conceivable.

Ms. Chen also said at the time that they would not be able to get us this information for privacy reasons, and without some help because they lacked the staffing to do an address search.

Additionally, patients could have been taken to hospitals in Long Island, the border to Nassau County being barely two blocks from the entrance to 7-11 Seagirt.

A man who answered the phone at the Nassau County Coroner’s on Nov. 4 refused to speak to us or to identify himself.  A person’s death is not considered public information in Nassau County, a fact confirmed by Ms. Baracove.

Ms. Baracove also confirmed that not all deaths are reported to her office. “Certain death cases are referred to me, and some are not,” said Ms. Baracove.

Meanwhile, at 7-11 Seagirt, three residents confirmed the deaths, one who saw a body being taken from the building, one of the two elderly Russians who had been allegedly asphyxiated by carbon monoxide. The person’s head was covered, reported Mariana Beeghley, a strong indication that they were not alive.

Further complicating matters, building management at 7-11 Seagirt did not keep track of who left the building during the storm or prior to it. When volunteers went door to door checking to see if residents were alive, or there, they had no way of knowing if the person living there was dead, alive, or had left the premises.

Still today there is no record of that information. Even when FEMA arrived, and began methodically marking doors, they had no baseline record to work with.

We made follow up calls to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital today, and again were told that the information about deaths is considered confidential information and that there is no compilation by address. Was there an increase in the number of deaths in the aftermath of the storm?

“Yes, there was an increase in patients, and so yes there was also an increase in deaths,” confirmed Ms. Chen.

Therefore because the deaths that were not recorded by the City Medical Examiner’s office cannot be confirmed as myths, then the concept that the deaths were a”myth” itself can also not be confirmed.

It can also be confirmed that the number of deaths did go up, and those deaths were not reported by the city. Therefore the number of deaths attributable to the storm were underreported. Were the “four” deaths at Seagirt part of those?

We’ll let you know for sure.