"A hurricane in the urban jungle leads to a surprising sense of community"
by Alice Gugelev (Director of www.dogoodasyougo.org)
It wasn't until Sunday afternoon, October 28th that we started to take things about Hurricane Sandy hitting Jersey City, NJ more seriously. The weather was beautiful but despite the calm, clear day, the subways in NYC and the New Jersey train lines were scheduled to close in just a few hours. We came home and took stock. It became painfully apparent that a responsible person must go and buy lots of stuff. My husband Jay, rather masochistically, volunteered. Little did we know that he would be back over 5 hours later. "It's like Armageddon out there," he said. "People are fighting over supplies and they've sold out of bread and water." Oops! He did manage to buy 15 boxes of pasta, 10 cans of tuna fish and 5 containers of milk. Our friends that worried about their place flooding brought their children and moved in, bringing their own supply of pasta and beans. On the bright side, we had a case of wine.
Monday dawned windy but the sun was eerily shining and people with dogs were out and about laughing in uncomfortable shaky "haha's" that ended in averted stares. By evening, the wind picked up to 90 mph gusts that broke the window in our apartment bringing the reality inside our living room. The lights and heat went out. We lit candles, hummed show tunes and gulped down cheap Malbecs. The kids played with flashlights. We felt a little like the naïve passengers on the Titanic.
Our home is directly in the flood zone, with expected surges of 9-13 feet. However, we were one of the lucky families—the water stopped about 5 blocks away from our house.
Several days later, over $40 billion dollars of damage had been done. Good friends evacuated from their apartments due to flooding and gas leaks, property and art irreparably destroyed, childhood beach memories washed away, cars and houses condemned from water, mold and felled trees. Subways remained closed, tunnels flooded, well thought through disaster plans failed miserably. People that were used to living in a public system, a dependable urban jungle, felt shocked and annoyingly helpless. Where was our self-sufficient RV, our post-apocalyptic EcoRoamer (www.ecoroamer.com), powered by the sun with 1000 miles of driving range when we needed it? (Thanks Bevan Walsh for offering to drive it out here, by the way!) What was going to be the reaction of the officials, the community, the world?
Our neighborhood underwater (from http://mickeymathis.smugmug.com)
My daily jogging path destroyed (from Nupoor Patel)
The taxis parked to avoid the storm in Hoboken...not too far from our house.
Typical urban scene post Hurricane Sandy.
Leaving aside what should have been done ahead of the storm, infrastructure, politics, use of Red Cross funds, and FEMA, I am most pleasantly surprised and inspired by the spirit of community, support and volunteerism that arose so strongly after the storm. The creativity and interest of neighbors helping neighbors and an overwhelming interest in the welfare of others has been nothing short of amazing. Here are some of the stories.
Top 5 Making A Difference stories post Hurricane Sandy:
1. Families taking in friends and strangers.
All over the neighborhood in Jersey City, Hoboken and other flooded areas of New York and New Jersey, people took in friends and neighbors. People took in those that lost everything and those that just needed a place to stay with heat and light for a change. People took in friends of friends and those that just needed a helping hand. Many people, including ourselves, are still hosting families that cannot return to their homes for a few weeks at least. FEMA and other organizations will take time to process claims and funds and those homes that can be salvaged need to go through an intensive clean-up effort. In the meantime, the sense of communal living and doing what we can for people and even their pets has been a positive experience that has built closer connections in the neighborhood.
A friend's house after the storm. The water line on a house in the path of Hurricane Sandy (from The New York Times).
2. Every store, school and public place in the area is taking in donations and sharing important needs.
Every location that I visited in my neighborhood set up donation baskets and bins, sharing information and volunteering opportunities. Donation gathering was not a mandate, but naturally arose from each shop keeper and school administrator, including that at my children's school and local coffee shop. At last check, every bin was filled and driven over the donation centers daily.
3. Immediate and well supported volunteering efforts organized by grassroots, religious and local community groups.
Although the power was down and state and government organizations provided little information, local groups shared volunteering requests after the storm. Hand-made signs, posters in shops and email and Facebook chains got the word out. Almost everyone I know volunteered in some way, whether it is delivering donations , handing out food, knocking on doors to check on the elderly or helping in the clean-up.
4. Creative, meaningful community support efforts by residents and stores.
One of the most interesting way that I saw people making a contribution was in providing charging stations. Businesses and residents that had power snaked out chargers and hand-printed signs stated that people can charge up their phones and laptops. In areas where power was out for 5-7 days, this had a huge impact. One enterprising group (Times Up), set up a charging station by pedal power, where residents eagerly charged up their devices
One local business (Madame Claude Wines) gave out free crepes and coffee during the power outage, using a propane burner and giving the community a place to go and get something warm.
Other residents set up grills outside and cooked up a storm, sharing all the food in their non-working fridges.
5. Individuals and groups not local to the area arrived to make a positive difference.
Even though the NYC marathon was canceled, runners that gathered in NY from all over the world took their energy and re-directed it to deliver food and supplies to those in need. Some adventure travelers such as G Adventures, loaded up three (purple) trucks with food, blankets, and first aid kids and traveled from Canada to deliver supplies to the tri-state areas with the greatest needs. In some cases, hurricane victims that were back on their feet in Jersey City and Manhattan, took their own initiative and worked with @OccupySandy to organize vans and trucks to deliver goods and supplies to other harder hit regions such as in the Rockaways that did not receive FEMA/Red Cross support and did not have enough local residents with the means to support each other.
Overall, Hurricane Sandy was a difficult and humbling experience, yet it was also inspirational and demonstrated how resourceful, supportive and giving our community can be. If you would like to find ways to support victims of Hurricane Sandy, please find these useful links and take note to follow the advice so that your donations are appropriate and needed at this time (for example, clothing and household furniture donations are not required): http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/30/us/iyw-how-to-help-after-sandy/index.html
We also welcome others to share how you have helped during Hurricane Sandy and in other local initiatives in your own communities during natural disasters.
Don't forget to check out www.dogoodasyougo.org