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11/13/12 | 1 comment | 897 views
On the ground in NYC post-Sandy
It’s Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. and I just finished writing a 1,300-word story about my recent trip to Staten Island, N.Y., to accompany St. John the Evangelist parishioners as they delivered three trucks and more than 600 boxes of supplies to victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The trip was an amazing experience from start to finish, with great people and an inspiring mission. If I’d had my way, the story appearing in this week’s issue of the Catholic Herald probably would have been twice as long, with every part of the trip talked about and examined in detail. Even at 1,300 words, it doesn’t seem detailed enough or descriptive enough or informative enough to do the 36-hour whirlwind trip justice.
For example, you never met Michelle, a Staten Island resident who lost everything — and I mean everything — when Sandy flooded her ground-level apartment.
When I met her, she was walking out of Miller Field, a park right in-between two beaches on the east end of the island, and the location of a Federal Emergency Management Association distribution center.
Walking out of the make-shift complex with bags of food and toiletries, Michelle (who declined to give her last name) said she’d lost everything except the pictures on the wall and a few items in her children’s rooms upstairs.
Only able to stay with family temporarily, she and her two children have nowhere to go and nothing to bring with them.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said. “I can’t believe this whole thing happened. I can’t believe I’m going through it. I would have never thought it. One day everything was normal and now I have nowhere to go. I have no place to go. Everything I had is gone.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked her.
Her response: “Cry.”
You didn’t hear about the quiet work of William Gregg, a representative of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, as he helped victims fill out forms in the basement of St. Clare Church. That location was one three state-run disaster recovery centers on Staten Island helping locals fill out paperwork to receive grants from the $30 billion in federal disaster aid requested by N.Y. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to repair or replace their homes.
“It’s not immediate (need), but it’s considered urgent,” said Gregg, “We’re not looking to have these people sit out in the cold for months and months. And it’s gonna get cold.”
You didn’t hear about how Knight of Columbus Ken Richardson’s heart broke when children from the neighborhood arrived shivering at the Comfort and Rest Station near Midland Beach.
“My wife emptied out my kids’ closest with jackets just to give them something to get warm,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking. It shouldn’t be happening in the United States of America.”
You also didn’t hear how mad he was at the government for not helping more quickly and more thoroughly.
“It’s shocking,” Richardson said. “We send billions of dollars all around the world and it took them a week to get organized. This ain’t 9/11 when nobody knew what was happening.”
And you didn’t hear the rest of the Kevin and Susan Ortiz’s story — how their basement ended up getting flooded even though they weren’t in an evacuation zone.
During the brunt of the storm, the family started seeing people driving their cars the wrong way up their one-way street.
“I thought it was a downed tree, maybe the police diverting traffic up our block,” Kevin said. “I go outside and there’s the ocean. It was scary.”
The family, though, had planned ahead. Each person had a plan and a job. The kids were responsible for getting the dog out. Within 5-10 minutes, they made it out of the house with “everything that we could carry,” including food for a couple of days and some clothes.
“Everybody did what they had to do and we were out really quickly,” he said. “I can’t stress how important that is for families to have, even if you’re not in an evacuation zone. When we came back there was a boat in front of our house.”
As the couple sorted through piles of clothes in the church’s basement, Kevin talked about trying to make progress without cleaning supplies, hot water and heat, about having to tear down the walls of his home to keep the mold at bay.
All, of course, while working full-time.
“A lot of people have been helping us out, but it’s still there,” he said. “We’ve still got to come home to it every day.
Please continue to pray for the victims of Sandy, both in the United States and in the Caribbean. They’re still there, they’re still suffering and they still trying to figure out just what to do next.
To help: Catholic Charities USA (local)
Catholic Relief Services (international)