Monday, November 19, 2012

Seeing the devastation--and the relief--first hand

We've all seen the pictures over the past three weeks. Homes destroyed and people's lives turned upside down by Hurricane Sandy. Having now seen it first hand, I can tell you the pictures don't do it justice.

Our first stop on Sunday was to a bulk distribution site on Coney Island, where folks from this relatively poor area of Brooklyn lined up to get much needed food and water, blankets and flashlights, mops and buckets, and more things essential as they start rebuilding their lives. I was a little surprised at how widespread the need appeared to be three weeks after the storm hit--until I took a walk around.

Nope, that's not snow they're shoveling. That's sand that had washed up on the shore and completely covered this Coney Island gazebo hundreds of feet away from the normal shoreline. These local residents were clearing literally inches of sand off the gazebo. Nearby, there were mounds of sand that had already been cleared from the boardwalks and streets, much like we'd see after a good old-fashioned Buffalo blizzard. When you consider what that sand--and the water that brought it up--could do to homes and power lines, the need comes a little more in focus.

Then we moved on to a nearby community called Sea Gate, and were greeted with visions like this:
A picture speaks a thousand words, but so do the people who lived through this. A Sea Gate resident who was getting a bite to eat from one of our Emergency Response Vehicles told me that he just got his heat back the day before, and the lights are coming on "in phases". "Before the storm, I parked my car eight blocks away, just in case," he said. "The water was up to the roof. I watched the storm with a buddy from an eighth floor apartment. He asked me, 'Is this the end of the world?' I replied, 'I don't know.'"

Considering the unthinkable devastation that they are dealing with, the perseverance these people continue to show is inspiring. One woman told me, "Two days after the storm, a Red Cross truck pulled up to the corner. I had my first Red Cross meal. It was good!"

The Red Cross will continue to help those affected by Sandy for weeks and months to come as families get back on their feet. This is likely to be the biggest Red Cross response in the U.S. in the past five years. To help, call 1-800-REDCROSS, click, or text in a donation today. Our neighbors in New York City thank you.