By now you have seen the photos, heard the stories and are possibly cleaning up the wrath Hurricane Sandy left behind. When rumors of Hurricane Sandy (aka Frankenstorm aka Superstorm Sandy) started circulating, I admit, I rolled my eyes thinking it might turn out to be another Hurricane Irene.
Even still, I stocked up and bought the mandatory jug of spring water. I put an evacuation bag together and posted up at my friend’s apartment in the middle of Greenpoint. Joey, Dan and Mikey were kind enough to let me crash at their place for several days. We had heat, hot water, delicious meals, alcohol, games and an antenna when the cable went out. My apartment, located in Zone A, lost power and hot water for a couple of days. My building and other apartment buildings on my block experienced flooding in some capacity.
In the days following, the news coverage, photos, damage and impact left many of us reeling. I was astonished by Sandy’s impact — still am. I’m humbled by the number of grassroots relief efforts that have sprouted up as a result. Locally, my friends and I donated supplies at Union Pool, one of many drop-off sites around the Williamsburg area.
This past weekend I finally had an opportunity to volunteer with Rockaway Relief. A large group of folks piled into 15-passenger vans and headed out to the Rockaways and Breezy Point. I spent quite a bit of time in the Fort Tilden area this summer and was amazed to see how the area completely changed. It was heartbreaking. The area is still without power, heat and hot water. Stories of looting and pathetic people setting fire to furniture and garbage for a good laugh or thrill began circulating inside the van.
I would describe the area as a war zone. Military personnel, police forces, firefighters, FEMA and Red Cross were posted up at nearly every corner, every block. Home after home after home sat solemnly among never-ending piles of debris. Despite the destruction, the homeowners’ spirits were surprisingly positive. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
We spent the afternoon gutting a home that had been flooded. There was at least 8 feet of water in the basement judging by the muddy waterline it had left along the walls. Leaves and branches hung from the once-white ceiling fan. Mucky water, leaves and other debris coated the linoleum floor. Everything had to go so handful by handful we moved sopping wet furniture, a washer and dryer, broken photos, lamps, destroyed decor, ceiling tiles and more from the basement to the curb. What could have taken the homeowner an entire day or more to complete took our devoted team just a couple of hours.
I watched as Frank, the homeowner, scoured the garbage pile in search of something, anything that he could salvage. I watched him as he leaned up against a small stone wall to observe his belongings and memories strewn among the damaged items waiting for sanitation to stop by to scoop it all up and transport it to some landfill. I’m sure he was painstakingly reflecting on the life that he built there in Breezy Point and the future of his home.
One cannot truly understand the magnitude of Sandy’s destruction until he or she experiences it firsthand. The sights were absolutely surreal. I met some amazing people along the way, both volunteers and Breezy Point residents, and am so glad to have been able to do my small part to help rebuild the community.