Michael Karlesky

A cabinet of wonders. Minus the cabinet. And possibly the wonders.

“Pull out bleach for the local residents…”

Yesterday was my first day back at school. After a little more than a week, apart from subway delays and sparse grocery store shelves, my life is pretty much back to normal. The subway is operating at about eighty percent of its normal routes (but this translates to less than eighty percent capacity). Some under river tunnels are yet flooded and some stations are badly damaged. There is discussion on how to fit in the classes we missed; I’m not looking forward to that.

In my earlier post I said that my roommate and I largely escaped the destruction of Sandy. To give you an idea of how violent the storm was, we live just across from Prospect Park. Last I heard the park sustained damage to three hundred trees — severe enough damage to warrant a fundraising campaign for new planting. The felled branches and tree trunks required full size construction equipment to move out of there.

News reports and photos abound. I don’t know that anyone, including myself, has a great picture of where things stand. But I’ll offer what I can here. On the one hand, the response from all levels of government, the utilies, and non-profit disaster relief organizations has been almost breathtaking to watch. It’s been organized, proactive, responsive, caring, and actively engaging the region. New Yorkers have been donating their resources and time to such a degree that large numbers have had to be turned away for lack of an ability to use them. The New York Marathon was cancelled so the runners volunteered along the route. All this being said, the destruction is widespread and the needs are many. At last count, New York City suffered forty-one Sandy-related fatalities. While Manhattan has power again, many buildings are yet uninhabitable. Those from that area are generally of the means to deal with such disruption, and their homes are safe as they are off the ground. Others are not nearly so fortunate. Tens of thousands have no home or are holed up in dark, cold, putrid living quarters. It’s been dipping into freezing temperatures at night. Many areas still have no power, or their buildings cannot yet handle the power that has been restored. If living areas are still standing they lack steam to provide heat and water to flush toilets and wash. The elderly and unemployed are not doing well. Parts of New York, New Jersey, and Long Island are much like New Orleans after Katrina.

I helped out where I could over the last half week, torn between doing the work I very much needed to do and trying to be of use to the dislocated and devastated. Transit was iffy so my roommate and I biked in several overloaded backpacks full of supplies to distribution centers when calls for specific items went out. I helped unload a full size semi-trailer sent up from the Carolinas by a church that got in touch with my church. There was no pallet handling equipment. But that didn't matter. At least a hundred people showed up (more than just my church), and we unloaded and sorted the boxes by assembly line. When it came time to truck those supplies to different areas, because of the fuel shortage, people volunteered their gas tanks to be siphoned.

Several churches as well as other groups spontaneously self-organized to meet the needs of a devastated neighborhood, Red Hook, not far from me. I cannot begin to explain to you the miracle these people pulled off. And miracle is the word. These amazing organizers were working eight to fourtneen hour days to do it. Surely God gave them the strength and opened doors to allow so much to happen in so short a time. Donations poured in. Volunteers showed up in droves. So much came in that it was distributed to other hard hit areas. When vehicles and fuel were short, the NYPD offered a truck. After that, miraculously, during a fuel shortage, people with minivans and hatchbacks started appearing. I can’t say enough about what these people did.

I spent most of Sunday at the community center that hosted all that I just described. Sorting and carrying and packing. Somehow I ended up at the front door as something of a communications person. It took three of us to direct local residents to resources and turn away volunteers and redirect their donations (the community center had to be empty by Monday as it is now the temporary home of a displaced school). In the morning, one of the directives I was given was to collect bleach from the the various donation piles so we could keep it for the local residents. Those who couldn’t make it to the temporary toilets were living with human waste collecting in their bathrooms; the bleach helps with the smell.

If you are able, please donate:

Finally, the photos above:

  • A touching donation I sorted.
  • Classic New York City coffee cups that summarize the feelings of all the volunteers.
  • Well. Um. Disaster relief comes in many forms.
  • Fresh produce distributed in Red Hook (it was gone in ten minutes or so).
  • Loading a police truck for Coney Island relief.
  • A gas pump on my walk back from the community center (not shown: police tape around the gas station as there was no fuel to be had).

UPDATE (Nov. 7, 2012): NYU•Poly has come up with a plan to make up for the lost week of classes. Long story short I now have a final exam on the evening of Saturday, December 22nd. This is a bummer. But in the grand scheme of things, as compared to what many are enduring, I cannot complain.