So for those of you who don't have me as a friend on Facebook, or don't care to look at my posts - I went to New York City yesterday to help out with the relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Myself, my girlfriend Heather, a couple older friends and Occupy Hartford allies Rebecca and Debra, and Rebecca's youngest son Connor - we all traveled early Sat morning with a bunch of supplies to deliver.
Ever since Sandy passed through the northeast and mid-Atlantic, everyone in this area was affected. Most of the region is back to normal and only faced slight inconvenience. Even in New York City, 90% of the place is back to normal or close to it. But some areas are just totally quacked and will be for a long time to come: much of Staten Island, Coney Island in Brooklyn, and The Rockaways plus Broad Channel in Queens. There's probably some other areas, but those are the major ones in NYC.
The five of us arrived yesterday morning in Brooklyn at one of the main hubs for Occupy Sandy - a church at 520 Clinton Ave. It is a busy place, and upon arriving was checked in and helping sort deliveries. There was a non-stop stream of deliveries, people dropping off supplies and necessities. On top of that, the Occupy Sandy "wedding registry" from Amazon has been very successful in people from all over donating supplies, to where UPS has sent truck after truck on a daily basis to the main hubs. All the items are sorted by type - packaged foods, kitchen supplies, clothing, blankets, winter gear, tools, etc... There are pallets of water bottles. The kitchen is used to make hot meals to be distributed to volunteers and to residents in badly hit neighborhoods. It's an amazing operation to see. Almost everything that was at the church in the morning for recovery effort, it was gone by Saturday night.
Rebecca and Debra had been wanting to get down to Rockaway - several people we knew from Occupy Maine had been down in the area. From 520 Clinton, we were sent down to a fire station in Breezy Point to get an assignment. Upon arriving in Breezy Point, the scene was surreal. Road signs were bent if not downed, trees were down everywhere, sand was everywhere. Cars were abandoned, and some were stuck in the mud. Houses were still having basements pumped out. FEMA is nowhere to be found, and the Red Cross only had minimal presence. The area is mostly being covered by FDNY, NYPD, volunteers, and expert disaster recovery teams.
After some time at the fire station getting supplies and instructions, we were sent to a house not far away. The entire neighborhood during the height of the storm was at least 3-4 under the Atlantic Ocean - at best. Over 100 houses caught fire to the south of the fire station, many destroyed. (Wasn't able to see that.) Others were washed off their foundations, or just declared unlivable due to the massive amount of flood damage.
We spent a few hours at the home of a woman named Maura. Her and a couple family members, plus a few other volunteers from California and upstate NY were helping gut her house. For what had happened, she seemed relatively upbeat about everything. She was hoping to be able to rebuild and move back in by the start of summer. And with the speed we were ripping out the interior of the house - it seems entirely possible. Insulation was removed, drywall and sheetrock were removed, fixtures were removed, entire interior walls were taken down. Closets were being ripped out. The beer chest on the porch was removed by scrap metal crews. Myself, I went to town on the bathroom and parts of Maura's son's bedroom with an old aluminum baseball bat and a crowbar.
Once we left this house near-demolition, we ventured east on the peninsula. The area is ravaged still, almost three weeks without power and no help in sight. Volunteers, charity groups, church groups, and Occupy mutual aid are helping the residents. We were able to deliver some cash to Kara, a girl from Westchester County slash Maine, that was down there helping with the relief efforts. Another Mainer, Alan, has practically moved to Rockaway and does what he can to help the low income locals.
The scene around there in Rockaway Beach is just surreal. Just north of Rockaway Beach Blvd at Beach 114th St, an entire block of burned out buildings if not bulldozed - just south of the A/S subway tracks. Pipes leaked. Traffic lights were out. The only resemblance of electricity came from Occupy owned solar panels next to a bodega. A little further to the east, high rise buildings with no electricity. Cars caked in mud and abandoned, destroyed due to the storm surge. Several blocks where people are lined up for food from volunteers. The NYPD has to control traffic, just to keep the flow of vehicles going. Northward into Broad Channel, cars are just lined up for a couple miles in the median of Cross Bay Blvd. - abandoned, caked in mud, destroyed from flooding. Debris is piled up on the sidewalks as is everywhere on the Rockaway peninsula. Fences show debris as far up as 5-6 feet off the ground, if they weren't knocked down from the wind and storm surge.
You might be wondering where the major organizations and relief efforts are - it's minimal in this area, if at all visible. We only saw one FEMA crew, down around Beach 98th. From what we been told, all they are doing is telling people how to apply for loans at crazy interest rates. The American Red Cross had some teams down on the peninsula, but we saw a bunch of their vans heading northward as well rather than down by the water. It's crazy to think that in New York City, one of the largest cities in the world in the most powerful country on the planet - Occupy Wall Street, a ragtag group of protestors and concerned citizens, are the ones spearheading hurricane relief efforts. And not only that, doing a much more effective job at it than other more established groups. I'm not being biased either in saying this, from what I saw in my brief time there plus what I've heard from those in the area - things are still severely lacking in the Rockaways. And many are angry about the area being exploited: there are already plans to raze buildings in favor of a natural gas pipeline, for pricey condos, etc...
Having gone down there for a day, seeing the aftermath briefly, and did a little to help out - there's just a lot more that needs to be done. I had never been to that area before yesterday, and now its a good deal of what I can think about. Seven hours from now, I will be at work. Seven hours from now, I will be wishing I was helping people in Rockaway instead.