She walked slowly up the stairs, laden with a bucket of water and lugging a cart with a few items inside. It was dark, even if it was daytime; it was cold as she labored for breath. Her destination was the sixth floor of her huge apartment complex, but I’m sure it felt like 10,000 steps to her; she was 70 years old. By her accent, I knew she was from the Caribbean Island of Jamaica.
After getting some much needed help with her load, the elderly woman had to rest several times before she made it to her apartment, where it was even darker and colder. You see, after Superstorm Sandy almost two weeks ago, she still had no water, no electricity and no heat. She has to make that painful journey up and down those six flights of stairs every day to get a little water to bathe, flush the toilet and drink. The host asked how she survived and she just smiled and said, “God is my strength.” Her laundry pile was getting bigger by the day, but there was no way to wash them.
I wish I could say this story was an anomaly, but sadly, it is the norm for many families still struggling to recover from the storm in New York, New Jersey, Westchester and other areas. For the sick and elderly, it is especially difficult and dangerous as well. The sweet lady above was trying her best to survive in her apartment in Queens, one of the hardest hit areas of the storm. She showed how she braced the cold under layers and layers of clothing and bed coverings. She expressed how she felt forgotten and alone. How no one was telling her when the power, water and heat would be restored.
Many of the high-rise buildings couldn’t get water past the fifth or sixth floor because there was no power to generate the flow higher. There was no elevator service either, for obvious reasons. Public housing residents in Coney Island had to use port-a-potties at the side of the street while residents in privately owned buildings across West 34th Street had all of their utilities restored. People are starting to notice the disparity and are getting quite angry.
In Long Island, residents there have taken to the streets to loudly voice their frustration and deep dissatisfaction with the Long Island Power Authority, (LIPA) who was responsible for electricity in their area and in the Rockaways in Queens. Storm-stricken folks in that borough are also past their breaking point. More than 250,000 are still without power, though that number seems to be going up and down, with conflicting reports from television and the city. Far Rockaway still has no train service and this has exacerbated the situation, for residents say they really feel like “the forgotten, isolated land.”
Nassau and Suffolk counties have taken matters into their hands and say they are no longer relying on LIPA top officials. Residents armed with bullhorns, pitchforks, placards and lots of rage picketed LIPA’s main office shouting, “We want answers and we want them now!” Local legislators in Coney Island, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Far Rockaway, Queens in NYC are addressing large angry crowds, saying loudly, we will not take it anymore!” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told the press corps Friday, “This is our Katrina” and added he expect the same level of help for his state. Thousands of homes in New Jersey were destroyed during the storm.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also voicing his anger with power companies like Con Edison, LIPA, and National Grid, saying their level of service was “unacceptable” and that they will be “held accountable.” Cuomo feels the companies were inadequately prepared for the storm and that it was time to take a serious look at the monopoly they have.
Thankfully, there is a sliver of light shining through the proverbial darkness for storm victims. Saturday was a day of service in New York and hundreds of volunteers, armed with food, mops, buckets, masks, cleaning products and a heavy dose of resolve, took over Far Rockaway, Coney Island Staten Island, Long Island and other areas. Help came as far away as New Orleans, with delicious hot meals cooked on the spot. Residents in Staten Island choked up as some got a hot meal for the first time in days.
On Coney Island, the severely damaged famed boardwalk was cleaned up of debris; Far Rockaway’s homes stripped of moldy, wet walls, mattresses and other water-logged household items. Even Cuomo was in the Rockaways handing out supplies.
Meanwhile gas-rationing continues in NYC and New Jersey where motorists say the odd-even number system has helped with the hours of waiting and “gas rage” that was developing. No timeline for when all this would end was given by city officials.
A reported $403 billion has already been paid out by FEMA but millions of families remain frustrated and scared of what the future holds for them. With their homes in shambles, they can only pray the help they receive will be adequate to rebuild or repair.
One thing is certain; the road to recovery will be long, painful and arduous. One resident in Far Rockaway, whose home was submerged in five feet of water, during Sandy, told me, “Hope” is her only tentative comfort right now, for it is the one “constant” in her life considering she and her family has lost everything else.
For federal help, go to FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Want to donate or volunteer? Here is a list of volunteer and donation opportunities throughout New York City and New Jersey.
Just remember when making a donation, be sure to visit reputable charities and avoid the many scams that have popped up over the Internet pretending to be givers when they are just greedy takers! Visit redcross.org, or the various states like New York or New Jersey's official sites for to find other charitable funds.