Sandy Was Here
This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a couple of days now as I have been struggling whether to publish it. I normally don’t publish personal posts but at the encouragement of online friends, am sharing this.
As I cuddled with my son in our bed last week waiting for Hurricane Sandy, I told him that night would be one he would talk about until he was a little old man. Any weather-related school closing always left indelible mark on my childhood memories. What I didn’t realize is that Hurricane Sandy would leave much more than just a mark on my beloved New York City. It has left devastation, the way no other natural disaster in living memory has.
First of all, my family and home were unscathed. We were unbelievably lucky. Tuesday and Wednesday last week were dedicated to reaching out to friends, seeing who needed help and trying to return to a sense of normalcy. I wrote about how we could all help with Sandy relief efforts by donating to various causes. I kept seeing tweets from my friends about how they had donated money to the Red Cross or other organizations dedicated to the Sandy relief effort.
Although my son’s school was still closed, a week ago Thursday was an eerily normal day as I live in upper Manhattan and it was downtown that was affected by the power outages. Also, by then a significant part of the city’s subway system was up and running, which early reports had feared could takes weeks (or even months) to repair. AND, it was only on Thursday night last week that it became apparent to me how dramatically-affected certain areas of our city (Staten Island, the Rockaways, Red Hook and Coney Island) had been and how they were still not receiving the immediate assistance they needed.
I had honestly thought that starting last Tuesday morning, supplies and food were already being distributed liberally to these affected areas. Perhaps they were, but it was far from enough. I went to bed very upset and angry that these those days could pass with these many NYers being left without basic needs and most of the country I am sure thinking the same. I was angry at myself for being so naive.
By now you’ve heard that one problem was transportation. How to get needed food and supplies to the affected areas and displaced families as public transportation to these locations was still not up and running and there’s a dramatic fuel shortage in NY (which has only since gotten worse). But this was a bottleneck for us regular citizens, not government or aid organizations. I can only surmise that the devastation was just too much and much greater than anticipated for them to handle so quickly.
By last Friday, out-of-town friends were messaging me. They too had realized, as I had the day before, the strong need for supplies and wanted to send help immediately. By Saturday, we were working together and they were donating supplies directly to my sister via Amazon so that she could deliver them to Staten Island since she has been visiting shelters and affected neighborhoods several times per week. Since then, two Amazon registries have been set up: 1) by Occupy Sandy (which is organized by the Occupy Wall Street folks) and 2) a local assemblyman in Staten Island and I recommend that you continue to donate directly as these registries are reflective of the exact current needs of affected NY citizens.
This week, my son’s school organized a couple of visits to the Rockaways (a beach neighborhood in Queens– a borough of NYC). The neighborhood we visited is inhabited by many families of the city’s first responders and elderly widow(er)s. The homes in the Rockaways that are still habitable (many have been destroyed and others flooded up through the first floor) continue to be without electricity and heat.
The team of parent and high school student volunteers delivered food and supplies door-to-door, helped clean up basements and basically assisted wherever we could. Sometimes that just meant offering a hot cup of coffee and distributing hardcopy printouts of how to apply for FEMA aid.
On Sunday, one resident told me we were the first volunteers they had seen in the area, confirming reports that the Rockaways– like other areas– felt forgotten after the storm. Another told me that organizations only started arriving two days earlier. I assured him that citizens around the country now knew of the devastation in the Rockaways and were coming to help as best they could. I felt confident about that because by then I had seen my friends in social media and beyond organizing to step in and deliver supplies. I tried to explain that we really didn’t understand the need beforehand and that if it weren’t for the fuel shortage issue I am sure more volunteers would be there.
When I left on Sunday afternoon, I promised residents that I would be back next week. But instead, I was back two days later.
I share these pictures with you because I want you to see the level of devastation that hit just one tiny area. Staten Island, Coney Island, Red Hook and of course our neighbors on the New Jersey shore look just like this. I don’t know the number, but family upon family is displaced and currently unable to stay in their own homes.
Sadly, after two days in the Rockaways, it felt like a dent wasn’t even made. But as much as it’s heartbreaking, it’s not disheartening. We will carry on and rebuild, together. And, it will be NYC’s marathon this year.
Photos by me & my friend Elizabeth C.Z. from our visit to the Rockaways
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