With the kitchen still without power and Mark at home, we’ve been taking turns trying to find volunteering opportunities around the city. We’ve helped cook meals and gathered donations to distribution centers. On Saturday, I finally left our neighborhood. I wanted to head down to one of the areas that were hit the worst here in Brooklyn but wasn’t getting much media attention, so my neighbors and I drove down to the Sheepshead Bay/Coney Island area. We walked along Neptune Ave on our way to a complex of tall co-op development buildings which still did not have power and saw firsthand the devastation of the storm as residents and business owners continued to clean out their flooded houses. Up and down the avenue for blocks and blocks were curbs lined with damaged belongings and piles of garbage bags filled with debris. We saw roofs ripped from homes and evidence of how high the waters flooded the area as parked cars pushed from their parking spots zig zagged down the street. It was a heartbreaking and sobering scene.
As many areas of lower Manhattan regained power Friday night and people set about getting their life back on track the next day, the inconvenience of 5 days of lost power to some was life threatening to others. There are many areas that are still utterly devastated by the storm that has not gotten much attention from the media or the government. Many of these areas are working class and immigrant neighborhoods like the Rockaways in Queens, Staten Island, Gerritsen Beach, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay/Coney Island in Brooklyn. We arrived at the makeshift disaster relief center on the ground floor of one of the co-op developments where hundreds of senior citizens were trapped in upper floors without power. The majority of the elderly were Russian speaking and many of them needed to be evacuated as they were running out of food and water and the apartments were getting very cold at night as the temperatures started to drop. We were told to go door to door and knock on the doors to see who needed help. We were instructed that a woman should make the initial contact as many of them were fearful of opening their door to looters. The relief efforts are wholly organized by members of the community because there have been no other services. We did not see a single presence of the Red Cross, FEMA or the National Guard in the area. We were told that Red Cross was on its way, but this is 6 days after the storm. I know for many people the Red Cross is the easiest and most accessible organization to donate, but I won’t donate to the Red Cross, who is so rich with donations, for this reason alone. If you want to help, there are local organizations who are getting food and aid on the ground immediately who need donations.
This is the scene in many communities around the city. The countless grassroot efforts by ordinary citizens that have sprung up to mobilize volunteers is overwhelming. Via Facebook and twitter, convoys are being organized in swift time to mobilize people with aid and transportation to areas that have been hit the hardest. We’re finding people who have supplies and aid and people who need the supplies and connecting them on twitter so they can find each other. To see this happen in real time is amazing. [Update: Read articles here, here and here about the immediate relief efforts led by volunteers and Occupy Sandy]
Driving around parts of Brooklyn yesterday to drop off donations, the disparity between the neighborhoods that had power and those that did not was unsettling. While one neighborhood could look like a ravaged war zone with people cold and hungry, another could look completely normal with people going about their business like any other Saturday. The disparity in some areas could be a matter of a few blocks. But this is a storm that we will not know the full effects of for some time to come. They are still finding bodies and people are dying trying to heat their homes with unsafe methods. The financial loss from small and big businesses alike is still unknown.
I’ve been particularly frustrated the last few days about the lack of coverage out in Long Island where my parents live. Faced with 10 more days of no power, my mom finally evacuated because of sickness and cold. My dad is staying at the house because they are being advised by local security to have one person stay because of looters, but it is getting cold. He has told me that he has not seen anyone – the power company, county officials, nobody – who can give updates on restoring power. Multiple houses around them were badly damaged from fallen trees. Without any gas to be found anywhere or power to pump the gas, it’s been hard to even connect with them in person. I am slowly starting to see coverage in the newspapers about Long Island in the last day and the story is the same – neighborhoods decimated, half the population, but down from the initial 90% of the island still without power, people cold and hungry, and dangerous looting after sundown. As of Sunday, Nassau County LI has the greatest number of people still without power.
In my search for any news of the area, I found this photo online last night on the governor’s flickr stream. The beach that I used to go to as a kid, that we take out kids to every summer, is no longer there.
Update: Here’s a Voice of America news video about the situation in South Brooklyn and hey, there’s a snippet of me in my blue hat…
Here are a list of local organizations that are providing direct assistance to those effected by the hurricane:
Occupy Sandy Amazon Wishlist – send what is needed most directly to those who need it
The Rockaway Waterfront Alliance
The Rockaway Relief Fund
Red Hook Initiative
Hurricane Sandy Relief Supply Amazon Wishlist c/o SI Assemblyman Titone
Hurricane Sandy Long Island Disaster Relief
Kitchensurfing, Support Chefs For Sandy
NYC Food Truck Association
Coney Island Shorefront Y
Staten Island Project Hospitality
Masbia Food Kitchen
CAAAV Chinatown, Organizing Asian Communities
The Brooklyn Recovery Fund
New York City Coalition Against Hunger
Food Bank for NYC
New York Cares
The Ali Forney Drop In Center for Homeless LGBT Youth
Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund
Hurricane Sandy Nonprofit Resources Page