The following essay comes courtesy of Eve Pomerance who like many distressed New Yorkers had decided to come to the aid of other less fortunate New Yorkers, particularly those New Yorkers which are often considered the underbelly of New York, the impoverished, the sick, the fragile, the economically maligned, the destitute and the disenchanted. They are not celebrities, reality stars or fashion models, instead they are in some way victims of Hurricane Sandyand to a large degree the vacuous political efforts of Mayor Bloomberg who has ostensibly forgotten about them as almost a week after Sandy came and went they are left to fend for themselves with no power, police protection against rampant looting and their neighborhoods in tatters. This is her story and more importantly our story, which begs the question why is it that after all the lessons we learned about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans we have our own squalid disregard of less mobile New Yorkers? – Scallywag.
Last Thursday, two days after the Hurricane, I sent off from Brooklyn to Lincoln Centre, which normally would have taken me one hour. The first thought that struck me was how clear the stars looked, because of the lack of street lighting. Parkslope was not affected by the power loss, because our power lines are above the ground. However as I went into Windsor Terrace to get on the train, there was a tangible lack of lights in the windows. Since there was only limited subway service to Manhattan because the tunnels were all filled with sea water, I had to take a train to Atlantic Avenue, then change to an Express bus.
As I traveled through Lower Manhattan, I saw there was no street lighting and few illuminated shops. The main source of light came from people wearing mining lights on their heads. I wondered where all of the film generators and big lights had got to? It felt like a film set for Mad Max in a post Apocalyptic reality, without the hummers. Bodies sleeping in the streets, garbage piled up. Pitch darkness. New York was never short of giant lights and generators. Was it the expense that prevented the Major from erecting them on every street corner? A woman waggled her very small flashlight in front of her, hoping to cross the road. I saw a side road where two trees had come down blocking the road. Cars were parked behind it haphazardly, as if it had always been a parking lot.
I stopped at a bus stop, hoping to get uptown faster. Instead I found myself listening to a stranger Nathana, as she told countless tourists who were here for the Marathon that the fact that Mayor Bloomberg had diverted his police force to help with the Marathon was a crime and he was a murderer. She went on to say that elderly people were trapped in their apartments with no heat or power or water; with no police to protect them. The Mayor was simply letting them die. It struck me as a very strong statement. So I asked her how she knew so much. I had heard none of this on NPR, my main source of news at that time. She said, “I don’t know. I just know.” This obviously did nothing to convince me that she was in her right mind. However I was haunted by her words and went to sleep that night with them going around my head.
I awoke and told my friend Debbie, who is a nurse midwife. She said she had heard nothing about the situation in the Rockaways. However she said there were many volunteering opportunities in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Extra large men’s clothes were needed for starters. So I went home and bagged some clothes. Debbie did some research and found a posting on FB from someone who had been volunteering in the Rockaways. She confirmed everything that Nathana had said. She said that if something was not done immediately. The Mayor would have hundreds of deaths on his hands.
Debbie and I decided to go down to the Rockaways to see for ourselves. We decided to take the kids, as there was no one to leave them with. Besides, we both felt that it would be a good experience for them to volunteer. Debbie asked her friend Julia, who owned a Hybrid car to drive us. She agreed, saying she had a friend called Jessica who was volunteering in The Rockaways. The next thing I knew, I was contacting Nathana to find out what to bring with us to the Rockaways. We went to the local 99 Cent shop, stocked up on water, cleaning stuff, toothpaste. toothbrushes and set off. The kids were completely unaware of what they were about to experience.
“Looks like a wave went through this whole place.” Will said.
“Wow, that must have been a big wave,” said Ruby.
“One of my colleagues on at Maimomedes said it was a literal wave…All you could do was run.” Debbie said.
We drove down the street and stopped at 106th, where we were met by a cop, who was directing traffic. It looked as if the road we wanted to go down was blocked off, to prevent traffic. When we asked he said in a sleep deprived voice, “Yeah whatever. Just go!” The smell of rotten eggs was overpowering. We passed what appeared to be a relief centre, where army trucks were unloading crates of bottled water. Seven adults climb out of a hatch back in front of the cops, definitely not legal. When we stop to speak with them it becomes immediately clear that these are volunteers. We reel down the window to ask where to go.
The woman tells us, “Beach 105th is apparently collecting volunteers. Stay on 96th.
I see armies of people making their way through the desolate landscape pushing hand carts filled with garbage to dump.
Looking for signs of the Hurricane was easy. The streets were swept with a combination of sand and tidal marks, as if the whole street had become part of the beach. There were rotting mattresses, rusted refrigerators, stoves, boxes and endless broken furniture all piled up by the side of the road. It was encouraging to see garbage trucks making the rounds. But it looked like weeks of garbage