“It is so much larger than anyone can possibly imagine”

Another guest blog, this from a friend, Hannelore Sander

11/21/12

Notes from Sandy

I am volunteering a lot these days at disaster relief sites in Staten Island, Far Rockaway, and Coney Island, communities, which have been hit so hard by Hurricane Sandy.  I love doing this.  It is such a good place to put my energies.  I get up at six a.m., when it is still dark outside, and put on layers of clothing and a backpack, so that my hands can be free.  I take the subway to the Mayor’s Office in lower Manhattan.  Old clattering yellow school buses, called back into service for new turns of duty, take the volunteers, who have gathered there in the early morning cold, on long bumpy rides to the places where help is needed.  They come from all walks of life, ready for simple, practical, sometimes backbreaking, curiously unsentimental work.

On the way, initially towering above us, and then seen from afar as we cross the bridges out of the City, are the monstrous buildings of Wall Street, many of which still stand silent and empty, their electrical guts destroyed, a skyline of previously unassailable giants brought to a patient halt.  The power and the money that is in Manhattan will soon have erased all traces of the storm. But it will take years to rebuild the devastated neighborhoods of the outer boroughs, with their often poor residents, whose lives and harsh living conditions, which were a reality even before Sandy hit, now are made infinitely worse.  I have never really been aware of them before.

The most dramatic sight of boats carried onto shore and tossed onto the roads along the beaches is gone.  The cars that were buried under mountains of sand swept in three or four blocks deep on 20 foot waves are freed now, though their engines, corroded by salt water, will never allow for them to be driven again.  Where will they end up, these thousands of car carcasses?  Most of the commercial establishments along the main streets are boarded up but a few of the grocery stores and bodegas and small food places, their walls stained and their floors buckled and cracked from water damage, are beginning to stock some goods again.  Cosmetics are not important, the aim is to just open and make a living again.   There are piles of debris filling the yards and the sidewalks in front of the houses.  In some cases, it seems that every last possession that ever was in those homes, is heaped outside.  Traffic snakes slowly through streets clogged with fire engines and Con Edison trucks and other emergency response and repair vehicles.

In cavernous warehouses, we sort through mountains of donations, which will then be delivered to various distribution points.  In community centers and churches, we hand out bottled water and food and toilet paper and tooth brushes and diapers and cleaning supplies and serve a warm meal to those who for two weeks now have had neither heat, nor water and who are, in many cases, still without electricity.  “We will only take what we need,” they say shyly or proudly, and we feel a pricking behind our eyes.  We smell their bodies and wonder where they will be able to take a shower or wash their clothes.

Where will they go to live, these thousands upon thousands of people from those huge, housing projects, now still huddled around their gas stoves, which they keep on day and night to get some measure of warmth?  For many of these buildings are no longer safe, with gas leaks increasing and mold growing relentlessly on the walls.  “We went through the buildings the other day, knocking on doors asking if people needed help.  I smelled gas coming from behind one of the doors and we found a woman inside the apartment.  She had a respiratory disease and needed oxygen.  There were tanks of oxygen all around.”

As responders are beginning to look up from and beyond providing for basic survival needs, the scope and scale of this disaster are beginning to be seen and known.  “It is so much larger than anyone can possibly imagine”, the team leaders, who accompany us on the buses, say. “We now need to move into the restoration stage and it will be massive.  We just hope, that the interest will not wane, that people will still want to come out…”

This is Thanksgiving Week.

About these ads
Published in: on November 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm  Comments (3)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://goldberg.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/it-is-so-much-larger-than-anyone-can-possibly-imagine/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Top of the morning Dick. God Bless you and all the other volunteers. Americans are a caring people, who just don’t talk the talk, but like you, walk the walk. Happy Thanksgiving in the true sense and be well.

    • Thanks for your kind words. This blog entry was actually written by Hanelore Sander, a friend. Her name was left off the initial posting due to her modesty and my lack of attention to important detail. It has now been added prominently. Here’s her response to that update:

      Dear Richard,
      I was actually quite happy that my name was not mentioned on the initial blog, but since the change resulted from good will on your part, I can only accept it gracefully and thank you for your thoughtfulness.

      Leela

  2. Well said. We should also remember those in Haiti, in particular. Many lost homes, loved ones & crops in a land still not recovered from 2 years ago.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 200 other followers

%d bloggers like this: