Lessons from Hurricane Sandy #5: Accentuate The Positive

So, yesterday was the two year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. The storm made landfall around sundown, so most of my memories of the storm itself are muddy–watching the street slowly fill with water was just eerie and ominous with the lights out. While my son was hyperventilating with fear that we were all going to die, and my daughter was comforting him, my husband and I were just watching the clock (and trying to remember how much credit we had available), knowing that the tide would turn shortly after nine. Once I saw the water start to recede from the top basement step, I figured the worst was over and fell asleep. Had a tree blown down and landed on the house, I’m pretty sure I would have slept through it. (If you want to know what it was like, you can’t do better than to read NY1 political reporter and local dude Bob Hardt, who live blogged the storm from his Rockaway Beach home. Start from the end, and scroll back to experience the view from the Beach 90s in real time.)

For me, though, today is the real anniversary–because it was not until the following morning that I fully comprehended what Sandy had wrought.  When I opened the door and saw my street, and my neighbors walking around, dazed, in tears, or even laughing with disbelief–because it was all just so surreal–that’s when it hit me. And while the sporadic texts and facebook posts I’d seen the night before suggested that it was worse than I knew–the boardwalk pulled from its staunchons, fires throughout Breezy Point and Belle Harbor–it wasn’t until a friend who still had a charge on his phone showed me a photo of the boardwalk, or what was left of, that I cried.

I just ran back through my email, and found the note I sent to friends a few days later, on November 3, when I arrived at my sister’s house for a night with my displaced children, a much needed hot shower, and a few moments of sweet, sweet Internet. Here’s my description from that email (I’ve pasted it in as written–typos and all. Cut me some slack–I was exhausted and traumatized!).

The peninsula is devastated. I don’t know what they’ve shown on TV, but it’s really bad. The boardwalk is just gone. It’s a terrible  hit, particularly for my neighborhood, which was just sort of coming into an upswing after decades of decline. While the Mayor handled the runup to the hurricane well (we can’t say we weren’t warned) and the city agencies are really kicking ass, it was terrible for morale that he declined to have Obama visit and then was planning to go ahead with the marathon. Bear in mind that we have no tv coverage down there, only the spottiest cell service, and the main news radio stations didn’t seem to be reporting on rockaway. We were seriously feeling forgotton.

The first night was madness–Looting, gunshots. But it took days for the national guard to roll in. We were seriously praying they’d just declare martial law. IT’s terrifyingly dark out there at night.

My nephew was able to register us with FEMA and they are coming tomorrow. We have not seen any presence from the Red Cross at all at my end of town, though we were hit less hard than uptown and breezy point, so I’m guessing they are up there. The hipsters we mocked all summer, however, are everywhere, walking down streets with bags of food and water, even dog food, making lists for families. They’ve got the best organized boots-on-the-ground effort we’ve seen in my specific neighborhood (check out http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/rockaways/). It’s overwhelming. After seeing the remains of the boardwalk that first morning, my neighbor and were walking along, lamenting that “These hipsters will never come back now.” And with that, a little group of five very Williamsburgy types walked up and asked us if were were ok. And we said, we’re all safe, are you guys ok? And they said, yes we came in from brooklyn its all fine there–we came here to help. And with that they headed back to my neighbor’s yard to haul 20 yards of construction sand into the pit left by her destroyed koi pond (and was endangering her foundation).  I cried. I’ll never mock a hipster again.

So that’s my update. Again, we are fine, and you know, we have a steady income and we’ll get through this ok. There are a lot of people in wealthier part of town who were hit with way more damage, but also are more equipped to handle it in the long run. But there are a lot of really poor people in my neighborhood who lost everything and really just don’t know what to do. They are just helpless, and everyone who lives here is too wound up with their own messes to even reach out. It’s difficult not being able to help your neighbors because you’ve got a basement full of wet crap (and the occasional dead koi).

On the up side, at least there are no zombies.

Two years later, I find it helpful to reread this, and remind myself that while the city is dragging its feet on repairs to our boardwalk and infrastructure, while many of my neighbors are still displaced, while all of us are still struggling with bills and the unfreakingbelievable amount of paperwork involved in making insurance claims or trying to get money out of Build it Back, and while the Red Cross is rightfully being scrutinized for being more concerned with marketing than with actually getting help to people, we’ve really come a long way.  Sand, eventually, got pumped onto our beaches, offering protection we’ve known we need for ages. The new boardwalk, while slow in coming, looks like it will be great.  Those hipsters kept coming back–they helped rebuild our neighborhood and are continuing to help build our economy. And my little neighborhood is finally getting a needed shot of investment not from the government but from artists and entrepreneurs and tourists  and even brand new residents who are catching on to what born-and-bred locals have known all along: This place is special. (Local blogger Rockawayist provides a great rundown on all the great things that have happened since Sandy). None of it is perfect, but things are happening in a place where nothing good seemed to be happening for many, many years.

I guess I’m a glass-half-full kind of girl. Sure, there’s a lot to complain about, and there’s a lot that still needs to be done. But Rome wasn’t built in day, and Rockaway won’t be rebuilt in a year or two, especially since many of our local problems–poverty, isolation, and crappy transportation–predate Sandy by a few decades. I prefer to count my blessings, because I am a goddamned Pollyanna with no time for haters and whiners. As the surfers say, you can’t fight the ocean but you can learn to surf. In my case, you can just look around and be grateful for the fact you are alive, you still have a job, and while your home may not be worth what you put into it, at least the basement is dry. And let’s not forget: there are still no zombies.

New Mural from Beautify Earth, Beach 91st Street.  http://instagram.com/oceanus_11693

New Mural from Beautify Earth, Beach 91st Street.

An aside: If you ever want to help in disaster response, I can think of no better charity to receive your donations than Team Rubicon. These amazing veterans were among the most effective and helpful storm responders–those first dark, terrifying nights, it was Team Rubicon who rolled down our streets with a PA system announcing who they were, and what help they were offering (blankets, food, batteries, etc). As time rolled on, they deployed teams to muck out basements and get aid where it was most needed. These are men and women who served our country, and then chose to serve again. We owe them far more than we could ever hope to pay.


2 thoughts on “Lessons from Hurricane Sandy #5: Accentuate The Positive

  1. Great post. And thank you for sharing the tip on Team Rubicon. So many people want to help when things go wrong, it’s difficult to know which group uses their resources most efficiently!

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