I’m writing this roughly a week after Sandy hit us. I’m sitting in my college library, typing up papers and being annoyed by people that are noisy. Though not all of them are back in service, the trains are running again. The MTA is charging us again. Everything is normal. Except that everything is not. People are punching each other out for gas. People are lacking power, heat, water, gas; some people are without their clothes or their homes. Some people are without loved ones. On the one hand, I’m happy to return to normalcy because being stuck in my home, watching the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy made me restless and like I was going insane. But then I remember that some people don’t even have homes to be stuck in, and I feel even worse.
I live in Sheepshead Bay, on the 6th floor of a co-op building that wasn’t really affected. We had a minor power outage the day after Sandy for a few hours and had to survive without TV and Internet for 2-3 days. I got off lucky. On Monday night, in the midst of Sandy, my husband and I started receiving frantic calls from his parents who had decided not to evacuate from their Zone A home in Staten Island. I understand the need for evacuation, but I don’t condemn them for this. Everyone wants to try and stay in his or her own home and wait it out. [Ed. Note: Thousands of people who had been told to evacuate for Hurricane Irene, stayed in their homes without having any trouble. It is easy to understand why they thought the circumstances wouldn’t be so different.] Soon, though, the water was so high that both of their cars were covered. Their beautiful three-floor house was being flooded. The first floor was quickly flooded to the ceiling and then water rose to the second floor too. They were trying to reach 911 with no success and their phones were dying. So we all started calling 911. I had to call about twice and each time I waited roughly 7-10 minutes. The woman on the other end couldn’t give me an estimate on when there would be someone available to go there. My husband was starting to panic. I started to brace myself for the possibility that he may lose his parents (and his 6 year-old sister) that night—almost half of all the people that died in New York as a result of Hurricane Sandy died on Staten Island. Luckily through some social networking, texting, and calling, someone was able to get in touch with the FDNY and—30 minutes later—my husband’s parents and sister were saved through one of their windows by an FDNY boat.
Two days later, they were back in their house, peeling the walls off the beams like it was paper. The first floor was completely exposed with just the exterior and the beams of the wall standing. I helped his mother figure out what clothes of theirs could be saved (after being washed at least once or twice) and what clothes are definitely garbage. There was mud everywhere and it was freezing. In the middle of the day, someone came by to inspect the house and slapped a green paper on the door to acknowledge that the house’s structure is still good. It might have been “good” but there was still no power, gas or heat, so my husband’s parents were forced to stay with relatives on Staten Island that were not affected. I found out later that the neighbors of the relatives they were going to stay at had had their baby the night of the hurricane with no power.
They’re all right for now. My husband’s sister was proudly telling me that she was saved through a boat, and we were already watching YouTube videos of sharks in the ocean. My husband’s mother seems optimistic, though clearly upset. His father seems the most out of it, perhaps because the entire burden falls on him.
Another huge problem we’ve been faced with is the gas shortage situation. We almost got stuck in Staten Island. My husband did try to siphon gas out of his parents’ totaled cars, which were stuck in the swamp, using his mouth—but no luck. We did have some good fortune, though, because someone was kind enough to give us some gas, though it had some water in it which almost made us stuck on Hylan Blvd. But after so much trouble, we made it back to Brooklyn and the next day I went to work.
When I’m not in school, I work at a party-planning store called NY Balloon & Basket Co. in Coney Island. I also lived in Coney Island for roughly five years as a teenager. I’ve known my bosses for a long time and they are like a second family to me. This store—and the business itself—is as old as I am—or perhaps a little older. If you’ve ever been to the Prospect Park Breast Cancer Walk or this year’s Walk in Central Park, we did the balloon arch at the front and finishing lines. My bosses have dedicated their life to this store like a parent dedicates their life to their child—and, in all honesty, both the bosses became a little bit like mothers to us over the time we’ve spent there. But that didn’t stop Sandy from slamming the store—as she did most of Coney Island—pretty hard. They could never get flood insurance because of how close they were to the ocean. It was surreal to come into the store on Friday and see what Sandy left behind. Almost the whole staff came in to help clean (and by clean, I mean throw out thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment) and we all made jokes in the back trying to cheer everyone up while holding the flashlight over each others’ heads. We made a promise, which was really just a hope, that by December 12th, we’ll be back in business. In all honesty, once the power goes back on and we get some supplies and equipment, it may very well happen, but for now, the store remains temporarily destroyed. Luckily, a network of balloon artists and decorators came together and donated money to our store, specifically for all the supplies we’ll need once we’re back in business.
New Year’s Eve is not too far away, and for us, that’s normally a dreaded day: we work nonstop, running around like headless chickens trying to satisfy all our customers and by the end of the day, we walk around like zombies and we can’t feel our fingers from tying so many balloons. I’ve dreaded this day every year that I’ve helped out, but I think this year, if we are back in business by then, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. I’ll be happy if my fingers fall off, as long as I know I’m back at work in the store.
Today, it’s supposed to be a lot colder. My husband’s parents got lucky that they found shelter through relatives, but I know not everyone is that lucky. Some people didn’t just get their first floor flooded; some people had their entire house washed away. Luckily, Sandy did not damage my bosses’ homes—though they still don’t have power as far as I know—but their store is now part of the Coney Island beach. I’m happy to be back in school, but maybe, it’s not time to return to normalcy just yet. For some people—like the woman on Staten Island who lost her two children in the water and found their bodies on the shore—it’s never going to be normal.
As an immigrant myself, I think it’s engraved in me to expect the worst and to want to get up after falling down as quickly as possible. Some people don’t have that instinct yet; some people are just learning that now. I think what I have found most surprising is how positively people have reacted to the hurricane and its aftermath. Everyone jumped to donate clothes. Everyone is volunteering to help those who need it. At the same time, with such short time before the elections, I’ve also seen people politicize a natural disaster down to the nitty-gritty of race and class. This hurricane did not discriminate against areas of poor people. In fact, Breezy Point, Seagate, the Rockaways, and some of the other areas that have been affected are all neighborhoods full of wealthy people. Does that make them any more deserving of this? Does that mean that they’ll recover from this more quickly? Not in my opinion. All these neighborhoods have been equally destroyed and equally helped or ignored—depending on what your stance on the situation is. At the same time, some people are helping a lot but want to make sure you know they’re helping a lot. “Occupy Sandy Relief” is taking pride in their relief efforts as being better than those of FEMA or other government agencies. To me, that seems silly. This shouldn’t be about who does more but about who is doing something. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can get back to normal, or something resembling it.