It’s been nearly a week since Hurricane Sandy unleashed her wrath and tore through the East Coast in the United States. It was week of so much emotions of all kinds and all levels, and I’ll never forget this event.
I remember last Saturday how chaotic the supermarket was with people getting much needed food and items, and how I was checking multiple times to see I was in an evacuation zone (I wasn’t).
I also sat in front of the TV, keeping an eye on the storm’s development. I wanted to believe it was all media hype, much like Hurricane Irene seemed to be last year. But the size and power of Sandy indicated that it likely would not be hype, and the destruction could be enormous.
I stayed in front of the TV on Sunday and Monday as the sky darkened and the winds picked up by the hour. I hardly spend much time in front of the TV, but there was nothing else to do but sit and watch as the storm roared closer to where I live, which happens to be Staten Island. There was no way I could tear my eyes away from the TV or the updates on Facebook and other websites. Sandy was going to be massive, and I had to be prepared.
By 6pm, Sandy was not too far away and the winds were beginning to scare me. They were so loud and so harsh, and I don’t think I ever heard them like that before. The lights began to flicker and the cable went out a few times. I wondered what could possibly the worst case scenario for me. I was several blocks from the Arthur Kill Kull in a hill-like neighborhood and my neighbors were smart enough to cut down their big trees nearly three years ago after a nasty Nor’easter struck in February 2010. So, I didn’t really think anything terrible could happen, unless Sandy was heavily miscalculated and my windows would smash from the wind.
The electricity officially went out at about 9pm and the wind was almost deafening, or at least to me. Nervous as I was, I didn’t know what else to do but to go to bed. The anxiety I was feeling all day had worn me out and I wanted to escape it.
At one point, at around 4am, I strangely woke up. It was so quiet outside. I figured the eye was passing over, though I knew that couldn’t have been possible because the eye of a storm doesn’t last several hours, and the hurricane was making landfall when I went to bed. With no real answer, and still feeling exhausted, I feel asleep again.
I woke up the next morning at about 9am. I surprised to find out that the power had returned and the storm was officially over. News reports said Sandy would end Tuesday afternoon, but that wasn’t the case. That was a huge relief, and even more so when I stepped outside to see that my street had little damage. Good to know, but I also knew other places on Staten Island fared much worse.
But I had no clue exactly how bad. As I went online to see the photos and reports of the damage in South Beach, Midland Beach, New Dorp and Tottenville, it was clear whole neighborhoods were completely destroyed. Houses were obliterated, flooding was unbelievable, and there were already reported deaths. I already felt guilty that I had not just power, but a roof over my head.
My guilt increased by Thursday when I was watching the local NBC station which a reporter talking to people in Midland Beach who literaly begged for help and were fearing for their health. Hours earlier, Borough President James Molinaro basically told the Red Cross to go to hell – and rightfully so. Staten Island’s bridges had been open since Wednesday and help could’ve come here during then. I’m sure the Red Cross and FEMA were aware how badly Staten Island was hit, unless they rely on media coverage, something my hometown gets little of, even from the local media. The day before, I was on Facebook talking to any friends who had power, and we shared complaints about how poorly the media paid attention to us.
Not that we should’ve been surprised. Staten Island hardly ever makes local news unless something serious happens. We’re the Forgotten Borough in ever sense, overlooked by the city and other governments. Pardon my cynicism, but I really did not expect any attention to come to us. If Molinaro hadn’t even the Red Cross the much needed tongue lashing, we still would’ve been ignored.
Anyway, after watching those residents in Midland cry and beg for help on live TV, I decided I couldn’t stay at home anymore. I was already planning to volunteer somewhere because it didn’t seem right to stay at home while others didn’t have a home anymore. Plus, downtown Manhattan – where I work – was without power and there was no transportation to get there. I was homebound for a week and I needed to do something productive.
I went to Mount Loretto which is not too far from Tottenville. Donations were being dropped off and they needed volunteers to sort and arrange the clothes, coats, toiletries, you name it. I cannot emphasize how much donations were inside this small gym on Mount Loretto’s grounds. When I say tons of clothes, I do mean tons of clothes were donated. It is amazing how thoughtful people can be.
I returned to Mount Loretto Friday morning with my mom. We first dropped off some blankets before helping out with the toiletries. We later moved on to the coats.
Now if Thursday seemed overwhelming, Friday was more so. Again, tons and tons of clothes were donated. People just kept coming in to drop off bags and bags of whatever they had that others needed. Some of them stayed to help out with the sorting and loading up the trucks, which delivered the donations all over the Island. It was heartwarming to see how great teamwork can be.
But it was also heartbreaking to hear the stories of those who came to Mount Loretto to get whatever they needed. The devastation was written all over their faces and they couldn’t emphasize how much they needed so many things. One teenage boy had a haunted look on his face and his eyes had a faraway look to them. One woman started to cry when she saw all the donations because the generosity overwhelmed her. She also seemed to be shellshocked. Her home in New Dorp was completely destroyed; she had lost everything. Her father died recently and she had a recording of his voice, and that was gone. I had to walk away from the group that was comforting her because I was about to cry. It really brings to light the reality of how people are suffering.
It was productive Friday. My mom and I spent nearly all day until her back started to hurt. We got there at 9am and left at 3pm, but we didn’t realize how long we had been there because we were so busy. Like I said, the donations kept coming and coming. There are truly good hearts out there, no matter how bad people can get.
Today, I decided not to volunteer because I was a bit sore from standing and lifting boxes all day yesterday. I just went about my normal chores, errands and writing. It’s likely that I would be back to work Monday, which I am looking forward to. Getting back to normalcy is much needed, at least for me.
But I still think about the people who literally have nothing. I’m sure they are strong enough to heal and rebuild their lives, but some won’t be so lucky. What about that woman who lost her two boys when the floods washed them out of her arms? I can’t imagine her grief, and I could only pray that God heals her as much as possible.
And I also pray that we all heal and recover as much as possible. Sandy has changed all of our lives here on Staten Island, and we’ll be stronger as a result.