Things seems to be close to normal back here on Manhattan. I feel the rumble of the train beneath my apartment every now and then (I live on Lexington), power has been restored to most of Manhattan and it seems that many businesses are back up and running. Although much of Manhattan lost power for 5 days and the island was pretty much crippled as a result, many had it worse; they live only miles from us.
I had never been to Staten Island before yesterday. But yesterday was as good a day as any to go. While I was back in the Motherland (Main Line/Philadelphia) this weekend I decided it was time for me to volunteer some of my time and resources to the #Sandy clean up efforts going on over on Staten Island. On Sunday I raided the flashlight and work glove supply at the local Home Depot in King Of Prussia and picked up some medical and sanitary supplies here up in New York. I packed my hiking bag full of everything (what you see above) and set forth for Staten Island Monday morning. I’ll spare any comparisons or grandiose language. For the emphasis of things is on the images and facts and I’ll leave it to you to come to your own conclusions but I need only say this: it was bad. I didn’t know what to expect before I got there. But here is the story of my day:
I took the Staten Island Ferry over to Staten Island. The view of the Statue Of Liberty was quite nice.
But what really caught my attention was this sign on the boat. I need not explain the irony…
When I got off the ferry everything seemed fine. I didn’t notice any severe damage at the port. I boarded the S78 bus toward Hylan Blvd. I met two other gentlemen who planned to volunteer. None of us had a plan, we just wanted to get there and do what we could to help. We were originally planning to goto New Dorp Lane, but be met a lady who was from the Midland Blvd area, she noted that that area was in worse shape and our help would be better directed there. So we amended our destination.
She told us of her uncle, who did not evacuate. The night Sandy hit she spoke with him as the tide was rising and he said everything was fine. A half hour later she spoke with him again and he said that within two minutes time the water had surged into the house and reached up to his neck. He had to cut a hole in his ceiling to get into his attic to survive. He was later rescued by a neighbor who was using his boat to go through the streets to rescue people.
As soon as we got off the bus at Midland we knew that this area was different than everything else we had been seeing on the bus and ferry. People were waiting in line with red gas cans at the gas station on the corner, a generator is no good if you don’t have fuel for it. We walked toward the water, as the lady had told us to do. A few blocks in we knew we had entered into a neighborhood destroyed by Sandy.
But not all of the destruction was caused by water, some by fire…
But there was help. This was one of the many areas set up that had supplies available for the people of the neighborhood.
I walked down Midland to Father Capodanno Blvd. I was not prepared for what I saw. Front end loaders and dump trucks dumping the contents of peoples homes into piles.
I walked north on Father Capodanno and found the main distribution area. Residents could acquire blankets, clothes, food, water and other supplies here. AT&T and Verizon were present with charging and calling stations. A few food trucks were also present giving out free food, big thanks to Mac Truck and Sweetery.
And then, off in the distance arrived more help… The United States Marine Corps.
Countless houses had this or similar signs posted on the doors.
The neighborhood had a lot of heart, resilience, food, water and support. But it was lacking one thing…
To put things in perspective, I would estimate the water level in the Midland area was about 10 feet, but I’m sure higher in some parts. You can see the high water mark on the two houses below. Houses there are only 1 floor were all but destroyed. Those of multiple floors lost everything in the lower floors.
Every street was lined with the contents of peoples homes. People’s lives out on the curb. Water does not discriminate in its wrath. Not far from here I was told two stories. The first was from a carpenter. He gave the people across the street from his worksite his lumber to help them fortify their house. The family ended up using it to build a ladder to climb up onto their roof once the storm surge hit. The second story was told to me by another man. He heard a mom and two kids screaming for help. Sadly, no one could get to them. He said the bodies were found later on.
And then I saw this. It brought tears to my eyes, a day later, it still does.
I came across the Marines I saw exit the helicopter earlier. They, along with workers from DSNY, were beasting a massive pile of debris. I believe this was on Bedford Ave. The Marines were part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. I spoke with one of the Marines, 2nd Lt. Gerard Farao, who told me they had been sent in from the USS Wasp to help in any way they could. They are known as America’s crisis force in readiness. Farao noted the unit numbered 48 men and was broken out into smaller groups to go around the neighborhood. I spoke with another Marine who said that it hits differently when the people affected are your own countrymen, this was in comparison to the units time in Haiti. The men operated with the utmost composure and dignity. Speaking and photographing the men of the 26th was certainly one of the highlights of my day.
And in case you were wondering, the mail still comes. The mailman said that this week he will deliver a lot of mail from FEMA and other organization to the area. But a bystander remarked, “Man, those fuckers still gotta send the bills.”
A much needed break…
The deputy commissioner of the NYC DEP, Jim Roberts, noted that they have crews working to clean out the sewers and drainage systems 5-6 times the normal number of crews were out aiding in the clean up. He said the system is ‘recovering very nicely.’
Throughout the day I saw countless other volunteers going around offering food, warm drink and water.
At one of the houses I helped clean up we had to take all of the drywall, insulation and flooring out of the ground floor. This had to had to happen at every house in the neighborhood. The drywall was still wet and in many cases could just be ripped down by hand.
And then we had to deal with this. When we were taking out the drywall on the ceiling the insulation held all of the water from the storm. And by water I mean a combination of water, gas, sewage and dirt. The smell was something awful. The man in photo back ground is Alex, he was the homeowner. He immigrated to the United States years ago from Russia and works as a graphic designer in Brooklyn. Many of the people I talked to were from Russia, most of them came over themselves, others seems to be of Italian heritage. Another man I helped was an artist, Rashid Akmanov. Hid studio was on the ground floor of his house. His art, supplies and instruments were all lost.
By days end I was tired, dirty, grateful and sad. Grateful that I was able to help and that I was fortunate enough to not be affected so adversely by Sandy. But sad that others lost so much. It was good to see that not all of Staten Island was in distress. Only small pockets of it. But those that were hit, were hit hard.
Falling asleep on the ferry…
Numerous people have asked me what the people need. And to be honest, I am not sure. By the end of the day I was being turned away when asking if people needed help cleaning up, as many people had finished, or they wanted to do it themselves. There seemed to be a lot of food and water, but I suppose there can never be too much of that. But what I reckon they do need are clean up supplies like shovels, brooms and gloves. The volunteer effort was pretty disorganized, I was going door to door asking people if I could help. The Red Cross was present, but their resources were going toward offering supplies and food. I’ve had many friends say they want to volunteer this weekend, I do not know what will need to be done this weekend, as each day represents a different battle for the people of Midland, New Drop and other areas. But I am sure any and all help will be appreciated. But most of all, the residents need time. Time to heal. Time to rebuild. Everyone I talked to said they planned on rebuilding.
Justin L Jeffers