Post-Sandy: What I saw and what YOU can do
This post is dedicated to Jacob Vogleman, who we lost in this past storm.
Sitting down on my flight set to arrive at 5am in New York on Saturday morning, the man next me asks, “How long you been stuck here?” “Since Monday.” He smiles, “Me too… You excited to be headed back?” I look at him, pausing and thinking. My mom can’t pick me up, because there is no gas. My cousin will get me instead, but can’t take me home because my flight is before dawn and my neighborhood might be on a dusk to dawn curfew because of looters. Before going home, I’ll go to Brooklyn to visit a friend and his family who has lost a brother and son to the storm. Then, I’ll head home as quickly as possible to help with cleaning and clearing my house, which had about 5 feet of water in it, and that’s nothing compared to my neighbors. Excited? “I’m not so sure that’s the word I would use,” I reply.
When I arrive at JFK airport at 5am, I’m shocked—the airport is already bustling. All of the seats were full in the cafeteria, there were massive lines at all the gates, and many people were collecting baggage at multiple carousels. I hop in my cousin’s car and we drive in near total darkness. “Sorry for driving so slow,” my cousin apologizes. “There’s a gas shortage… I heard two people were stabbed and one person drew a gun over gas…” We pass a gas line that goes as far as the eye can see (at least one mile long). The cars are all off and most appear abandoned. In the darkness, it’s eerie to see these ghost cars waiting quietly for their judgment.
“My boyfriend does temp hiring and the biggest thing now is guards for generators. The looting’s been pretty bad in some places… Some homes that have been half destroyed are looted—as if those people haven’t already lost enough.” Later, when I nap on my cousin’s couch, waiting for daylight, I dream of looters stealing while I’m in the house.
We meet my parents at a hotel they have been staying at for nearly a week. My dad immediately says, “Where is your suitcase?” “It’s in the car; you said we’re taking it home…” My dad looks at me seriously and then grins, “This is home now.”
We walk in for hot breakfast. My cousin is grateful for the heating and cooked food. The dining area is full of elderly people and little kids in pajamas. There is a fireplace with a crackling fire. “Welcome to paradise,” my dad laughs.
I then head to the train to Brooklyn, figuring it would be easier to handle first the loss of my friend’s brother, the heaviest blow Sandy has dealt me. While waiting for the train, a tiny Filipino woman asks me when the next train is. We huddle behind a pillar to keep out of the chilly wind and she tells me her hurricane war stories. She helped her 2 children escape to the US after a serious storm in the Philippines. Out of the frying pan and into the flame, I suppose. She had been at work in Massapequa as an elderly aid since October 26. I listen gravely as she tells me of trees threatening to fall on the house she was in, living with no heat (and no proper warm clothes), eating nothing but crackers, and not hearing from her children. She was eager to get home, though she had no idea if the train would even stop in Queens and if the buses were actually running. Having internet (and, subsequently, information) can be a precious commodity now and I was happy to tell her that the train was stopping in Queens and most city buses were running as usual.
On the train I met another guy who complained that he had to go into Brooklyn for a few hours to work at the new stadium for the Nets basketball team opening night. He told me he was leaving Long Island for the Poconos first chance he gets. I asked him if he was worried about looters, but luckily he has a housemate who will watch over his stuff.
I get off the train at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and immediately I’m blinded by the sun. It’s a beautiful day, and while panic ensues on Long Island, it seems as if nothing has ever happened in Brooklyn. I walk twenty minutes to my friend’s apartment and I can’t shake the desire to grab people and tell them that just 15 miles away people are suffering. I plug along and when I get to my friend’s apartment, mourning is in the air and the memory of the storm hangs around the bend. There is something especially awful about the sudden, traumatic loss of such a young boy. The moments oscillate between extreme sadness, shock, laughter, and chatter about nothing really that important. Even if you’ve been through a similar loss, the right words are hard to find. While people amble outside, enjoying the beautiful, normal day, I’m constantly reminded of what Sandy has taken.
I catch a generous ride home from a family member of my friend. It is the first time I see my neighborhood. One thing is for sure: no one is waiting around for help. Trash and debris are piled onto the street and garbage trucks pass every few minutes to pick up what they can. Many areas are, according to my parents, “100% better already.” But one area of my neighborhood has suffered unfathomable loss, with the debris of a whole house from another part of the bay, a totally different town, is piled on the sidewalk. Insulation, wood, furniture, everything line the sidewalks. Massive trees lay on their side, resting on electrical wires. Homes of people incapable of moving things out are abandoned, still flooded. It feels like another world; certainly not the safe, quiet, white picket fence world I grew up in.
The day continues. A friend of my cousin who is selling generators out of his pickup stops by our house and sells us one (it even has a little gas in it!). A heating and cooling systems guy gives us a quote on a whole new system. We cheer when the garbage men tell us they will take the massive amounts of insulation off the street in front of our house. My mom waits two hours in a line with two gas cans to get 10 gallons, worrying a little bit that someone might try and steal them from her on her brief walk to the car.
But the world moves forward. My cousin sends me a text, “We have power!!!” We have a pasta dinner at a friend’s house that has a generator. My friend texts me that she is going to go to work on Monday, even though she’ll have to crash for the week at another friend’s house because she doesn’t have enough gas to commute. My friend in Long Beach (one of the most devastated areas) texts me, “Let me know if you need anything!” A cheery man in the hotel lobby with a white beard, round glasses, and a red shirt is addressed by the children as “Santa.” For a moment I smirk; even Santa has been displaced.
Please, please, please make a contribution to the aid relief. One of the biggest things you can donate is man power. People need to have their houses gutted and furniture removed as soon as possible (assuming their homes are salvageable). Giving you time and energy is more valuable than any money. Connect with a volunteer organization as soon as possible (if you’re not sure where to turn, go to a local church or synagogue, even if you’re not a member, they should be happy to get you involved in relief efforts). If you go on your own into a community, that’s awesome, just be understanding if people decline; there have been a lot of looters pretending to be LIPA workers, Red Cross workers, volunteers, and even community members.
A lot of items are being donated, but be sure that they are going to places of need. In my town, food and blankets aren’t really needed, but in other areas where people are trapped in the community it might be of more need (Staten Island, Long Beach, etc.). In some areas, food is going bad because of a lack of need. Please also consider giving blood if you are low on funds and not in the tri-state area. Check out the Red Cross to find you local donation bank.
A monetary donation is almost as good as giving your time (time is money, as they say). Money never expires and never goes bad. If you have a friend who you know has been affected but you don’t know what to give, consider a gift card to a local home improvements or furniture store (it’s way too gauche to give money, food, or clothes unless they ask for such assistance).
For more information on how to make a donation, please check out
American Red Cross: www.redcross.org/hurricane-sandy
Brooklyn Recovery Fund: www.brooklynrecoveryfund.org
Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City: www.nyc.gov/html/fund/html/home/home.shtml
New Jersey Relief Fund: https://sandynjrelieffund.org/index.html
Salvation Army: www.salvationarmyusa.org
United Way Sandy Recovery Fund: uwsandyrecovery.org
Info on the many ways to give to/volunteer in Staten Island http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/11/so_many_staten_islanders_in_ne.html
For information on how to give to the south shore of Long Island please contact email@example.com
Below are photos from the last few days on Long Island. Thank you so much to those who generously permitted me to take photos of their homes to show the serious crisis on Long Island and in the region. These photos tell a story that I hope will never be forgotten.