One week.

One week ago today, I sat in my apartment in Queens terrified by the reports I heard on the news as Hurricane Sandy moved up the East Coast. Bursts of blue and white light, transistors exploding across the sky, could be seen from my front door as power went out across lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. We knew as the first signs of the surge arrived just before high tide that the dreaded forecasts were coming true; Sandy would devastate our city. My mom, Brian, and I exchanged nervous glances each time the lights flickered and harsh winds pounded against my windows as the evening hours passed. It was surreal to realize the city I associate with bright lights, strength, and an indescribable energy was in jeopardy of losing so much. 

Morning came and we were incredibly grateful to wake up to heat, hot water, and power in Astoria . Aside from several fallen trees, my neighborhood was untouched by the wrath of the storm. Unfortunately, many areas across the five boroughs were not so lucky. I sat with a lump in my throat as I scanned pictures online of neighborhoods I knew so well completely underwater and lifeless. Cars floated down streets and in garages like toys, subway tunnels and stations were flooded up to their ceilings, and our favorite Brooklyn carousel became an island in the East River. As we watched the coverage Tuesday morning, we realized that the destruction the hurricane left up the coast was unimaginable. Sand, water, oil, debris filled towns throughout New Jersey, Long Island, and New York City and communities were unrecognizable. It was absolutely devastating. 

For days I stayed home glued to the television as more and more stories came out about lives lost, neighborhoods destroyed, and assistance trickling in. I felt helpless without the subways; I wanted to help the communities around New York City but had no way of getting to them. Once the trains started running again on Thursday, the city's pulse quickened. My pulse quickened. I was ready to go out and work. After researching and emailing volunteer organizations around the boroughs, Brian and I decided  that our energy was needed on Staten Island.

Early Sunday morning Brian and I joined hundreds of marathon runners, along with their families and friends, downtown at the Staten Island ferry station. Determined to put the day they had trained so hard for to good use, groups of runners came together to deliver supplies and clean up homes in Oakwood Beach, one of the neighborhoods destroyed by the surge. We met up with our friends Beth and Matt, who were both supposed to run in the marathon, and piled into the 8:30 am ferry to the island.
Once we arrived, our group, NYC MORE, hopped on the train and quietly rode to Oakwood Heights, not sure what to expect when we arrived. We were greeted by a man named Sal as soon as we got out of the station and walked as a group to a donation center where we filled our backpacks with gloves, masks, and water. From there, we were on our own. Just walk around and ask people if they need help, Sal yelled to us as he hurried off to organize more supplies. As soon as we started walking, we realized that help was needed everywhere.

We wandered down streets lined with piles of belongings mixed with tree limbs, cars, and debris from the marshes nearby. I saw a woman quietly crying in her front lawn as she watched men carry all she owned out of her home, still dripping from the water that almost reached her roof during the height of the storm. Whole houses were washed away from their foundations and found blocks away, leaving only concrete front steps where a home once stood. I had never seen anything like it before. I held back tears as I said good morning to families outside their homes and offered a smile when the words did not come.
After several blocks, we turned down a road less traveled by volunteers and met a man named Dave, who was emptying the contents of his home with his brother and cousin. We quickly got to work cleaning up and hauling away the debris that filled his back yard and steps leading up to his home. Sea grass was piled several feet deep, dry on top but still wet with water and sewage below. We filled wheel barrels, laundry baskets, and a shopping cart for hours until green grass was all that was left.
Next door, an entire wall of Dave's neighbor's home was torn down and carried away when one of his two boats plowed through it during the surge. Both boats are still missing.
After Dave's yard was finished, we moved next door where the debris was even more deeply packed in. Our team quickly grew from five people to about twenty who flawlessly fell into a rhythm like old friends, even though most were strangers. We all knew we just needed to help. A task that seemed unrealistic at first was completed in under two hours with a lot of positive energy, perseverance, and teamwork. We congratulated each other on a job well done as we returned our tools to the home we borrowed them from, and waved goodbye as we all walked our separate ways onto new projects.
While Brian and Matt continued onto another block to help homeowners carry out their belongings, Beth, Melissa, and I sorted items at a donation center set up by a few people from the neighborhood. For hours we piled clothing, toys, blankets, and products into bags and handed out items to families who were in need. Hot food was served to residents and workers continuously throughout the afternoon, and volunteers traveled on foot handing out meals, coffee, and water up and down the streets as people worked. No matter your age, ability, or experience, there was a job that you could do. It was amazing to see so many people come together to help. 
After my seven hours on Staten Island I was physically and mentally exhausted. The day was difficult for everyone and the work completed during our time in Oakwood Beach was only a small fraction of what needs to be done. But it was a step in the right direction. A step towards life returning to normal for those families. And that is all we can do.
There is still so much work to be done and so many communities in need. But I know that New York City will regain its bright lights and its strength. And let's face it, it never lost that indescribable energy. 

I urge you to help in any way you can with the relief efforts. Here are some links for opportunities to donate money and/or volunteer your time: 


  1. Those photos are horrific, but at the same time, what you and the rest of potential marathon runners did is awesome. You guys rock!! :D

  2. Wow, the damage looks devastating. So amazing that you and Brian offered your time to volunteer. I'm sure the staten island residents really appreciated it :)


  3. What a beautifully written post about something so tragic. I'm thankful there are people like you in the world who help others in need. Thank you for providing links on how to help with donations; I have been wanting to do so, but was unsure of my options. Take care!

  4. Thank you so much for volunteering! We need more people like you willing to get out there and help others.

  5. Wow Daina - completely eye opening and shocking and I'm sure even more so for you and Brian.


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