Its name suggests sweeping water views, but residents of tragedy-stricken Belle Harbor are beginning to wonder why the snug security they once felt in their homes has been so sorely tested.
Fifty residents of the Rockaways community died on 9/11, and two months later a plane went down in flames, killing all those aboard and five people on the ground. Then, as the 11th anniversary of that crash approached, a dozen homes lay in ruins after a bizarre fire raged during the flood that was Hurricane Sandy.
“I don’t believe in curses,” said retired Con Edison worker Jim O’Connor, 58, who watched helplessly as his neighbors’ homes burned in the storm. “The only thing our neighborhood hasn’t gotten is locusts and frogs.”
The fire in Belle Harbor was a mere block from where 265 people died on Nov. 12, 2001, when an American Airlines Flight 587 never made it to the Dominican Republic.
Belle Harbor looked like a war zone then, and it does once again as residents of Beach 129th and Beach 130th Sts. pick through the charred rubble of their homes and debris that line the streets.
O’Connor’s childhood home was spared the blaze, but the first floor flooded. He’s not sure if he and his wife will ever permanently return to their beloved home again.“This whole neighborhood was just a great neighborhood to live in and raise your kids,” said O’Connor. “It’s very unfortunate what’s been going on.”
Robert Rocelle, 45, was just a few houses away when the burning plane went down on Beach 131st St. He was getting ready for the funeral of a fellow firefighter who died on 9/11.
“We heard a loud noise . . . and then a few seconds of silence,” he said. “All of a sudden, the house shook. Stuff was flying off the walls. My kids dove under the table.
“I thought somebody dropped a bomb on us,” he added.
Rocelle hurriedly donned his firefighting gear and ran to the scene of the inferno, where his neighbors had fled homes flattened by the crash.
Today, he lives with his family on the site where the aircraft went down. The new house was flooded and hit by burning embers during Hurricane Sandy, but it survived, he said.
Read more: NY Daily News