Sandy, Katrina and Life Thereafter

I can’t get Sandy and it’s victims out of my mind. I live my life as does everyone else, day after day doing the best I can but always, always in the back of my mind are the people who’ve lost everything to this storm, as many here in New Orleans did to Katrina and the failure of the federally built levees. Every news story I read brings back the memories of life after the storm and I grieve for those going through that hell now, as we did then. I didn’t lose my house, my loved ones, my life as so many did but I lived the days afterward in a broken city. I was lucky. I may have been inconvenienced for several months, I might have suffered survivors guilt and depression but I knew, I knew in my heart that I was one of the lucky ones. Be that as it may, I do believe that my close proximity to disaster, loss, death and despair made me a more empathetic person. I know personally people who did lose everything, who put their lives on the line to help others, who lost their own lives in the face of a disaster.

When I read how Congress has waited so long, so very long – 78 days – , to vote to give aid to the victims of Sandy it makes my blood boil. Yes, we may have lost many more lives to our storm than theirs but that should only make us all more empathetic.  We have lived through disaster, we have slogged through the red tape and politicians bullsh*t and that should make us more empathetic. The comparisons between the storms really don’t matter. This is not a competition as to who suffered more. We all have suffered. It doesn’t matter now who opined that we lived below sea level and deserved our fate and whether or not they say the same about New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. No one – no one- deserves to lose their entire life like this. But, it happens. Through natural means or man-made means, it happens.

We, as New Orleanians, know just how devestating and how damn hard it is to live after a disaster such as Sandy. We lived through the pain, the despair, the hardship, the depression. We lived through months of Fema trailers, garbage, no city services, the stink, the flies, the limited store hours, the food and gas shortages, the lack of medical facilities, the fight with insurance companies and on and on and on. We know the hard, relentless slog of life and the mental fortitude it takes to keep on going. We know what the Sandy survivors are living through right now.

May it never happen to you. This is what I think about at 1:30 in the morning when I cannot sleep. The memories may fade a bit with time, but they never pass entirely.

Help. Now.

“I’m so glad you were in New Orleans for this major storm and in New York for the previous major storm,” my mother said over the phone.

I understood her as a mother understands wanting to protect her child, certainly. As a granddaughter, niece, and friend of many who suffered and are still suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, however, I felt as though my hands were tied.

I’ve felt impotent all through my monitoring of the struggles with public transportation our friends in the Queens neighborhood that was home to us for four years before we moved back to New Orleans have been having. I’ve felt helpless in the face of far too many pictures of the worst hit of the five boroughs, pictures reminiscent of too many neighborhoods across this city that are still recovering over seven years after the levee breaches. And I felt especially sad and angry upon finally getting through to my grandparents in Valley Stream, on their sixth day without power, starting to lose hope.

My grandmother, in our conversation, had never seen anything like what she was seeing in her eighty-plus years as a native New Yorker. Her house and one of the cars she and my grandfather owned were intact, but chilly. A neighbor had a generator and had offered to let them use it for a time, but they didn’t want to impose – gasoline is getting scarce. My aunt has power at her Manhattan apartment, but getting there by car or by the Long Island Rail Road is proving to be a difficult thing to even think about, much less embark upon. I had managed to talk to her when she was in the car on the way to her synagogue, which had heat and was serving hot coffee.

I cried out of relief at having been able to talk to her, and out of not being able to hug her through the phone. So many of the things she and my grandpa took for granted had been taken away.

“I keep checking a site that shows the progress of the energy companies on Long Island,” my mother said when I discussed it with her, “and part of the problem is they just don’t have enough people to get everything back on quickly. It also seems the power’s coming back on to the places with the most money.”

“Ooh, none of that sounds familiar,” I said sarcastically.

It’s all far too familiar – coastal areas being washed away or otherwise destroyed – and not quite – debates over whether or not major events held when the weather is not as freaky – like voting or a marathon – should go on as always. (For the record, it was absolutely the right move to cancel the NYC Marathon this year. I have little doubt if a serious weather event happens close to Mardi Gras that the krewe captains would band together and cancel the parades.) The “not quite” is what has me walking away from the computer from time to time, not wanting to impose on the shock of so many others. I have so much sympathy for the northeast and fear for what more is to come in their recovery. My projections upon them have no place whatsoever right now, except in one crucial way…

No matter who or where they are, Hurricane Sandy’s victims need help.


A few links to consult:

Time Out New York is constantly updating their page of how to help. Donations list is near the end of the post, but new needs are being put up every day. Keep checking in.

Gothamist has a page up on what people need. Keep it in mind when donating.

Brokelyn’s “Where to Volunteer This Weekend” has some donations links as well.

This site is specific to Staten Island’s needs, which are massive.

Strong Island, where folks on Long Island can report on drop-off centers for supplies in their area, places to charge their devices, places to get warm, places in need of volunteers – you get the idea. Got friends, family on Long Island? Pass this link on.

Know anyone who was planning to run the NYC Marathon? This site is set up to help them donate their hotel room to a family in need. Pass it on.

A number of links related to New Jersey are here from one of my favorite writers, as well as a link-o-rama on the climate change talk Sandy and its aftermath have sparked. Any other good Jersey-related donations, needs? Leave them in the comments to this post.