New York City residents are faced with uncertainty as we work to return our lives to normal while connecting to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy to offer disaster relief assistance. The five boroughs are a patchwork of devastated areas and blocks that are completely unaffected by the storm.
There are clean-up projects, housing needs for displaced and the threat of snow and freezing temperatures thwarting recovery efforts.
My neighborhood, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, is on the water, and is largely unaffected by the hurricane. Many of my neighbors rallied together this weekend to collect donated water, baby supplies, blankets, hot meals, warm clothes, cleaning supplies and man hours to deliver to Staten Island and the Rockaways, which were completely devastated by the storm.
We have a gas shortage here -- I'm sure you've seen images of lines that stretch across many blocks -- and the affected areas are about a 40-mile round-trip away. We are working to conserve gas and coordinate cars to drive donations to the people who need them.
It is incredible to see how quickly a community can mobilize. The government and relief agencies are helping, but they are slowed by required signatures, logistics, budget approvals and other procedures. The community-driven disaster relief seems to be much more efficient -- we just find ways to do what needs to be done.
On Sunday, I went out to the Rockaways to survey the damage and gather contact information and supply lists from displaced residents and pop-up shelters for SparkRelief.org. It was an inspiring day; amidst so much destruction, neighbors are helping clean out each other's homes, people were biking from NYC to offer their labor, and residents in Arverne, Far Rockaway, said the hot meals hit the spot for the exhausted and cold. The NYC Marathoners were also heroes. They used their athleticism and pent-up energy to donate hundreds of hours of manual labor to homeowners.
As the temperature drops and a blizzard is rumored to be approaching, I worry about the people in the island communities. They are living in damp homes and trying to protect their belongings from looters. Their warm clothes and blankets were lost to the flood waters and sewage overflows, so we are focusing on delivering warm blankets and transportation to warming shelters.
I am frustrated by the fact that NYC'ers are donating millions of dollars to the Red Cross and other national relief organizations during disaster relief efforts. Donate blood and time to the Red Cross during disaster -- money is best given directly to the people and local organizations who can allocate it with more resonating impact.
Consider donating money to hire a contractor, purchase food for neighbors or buy a hotel room for a family for a night.
The blackout in NYC was an interesting experience as well. Commuter lines were down all week so there were few tourists and visitors, and many residents left the city. It was a ghost town this week where a bikes ruled the streets; cars had been towed away due to flood damage and taxis were conserving gas, so the streets were strangely desolate.
This storm has united New Yorkers. So many kind-hearted people spent the weekend volunteering to help dig out homes and deliver goods.
Now, it is the work week and people are attempting to commute to the city. Many workers in Long Island are stuck without gas. Residents of Williamsburg stood in long lines for the East River Ferry to 34th St. in Manhattan. It was cold yesterday morning, but people seemed patient, and some called in to work from coffee shops. The office buildings are starting to fill up, but it seems many people are choosing to avoid the wasted hours of an inefficient commute.
Trash pickup in Williamsburg seems to be slow; maybe garbage trucks have been dispatched to other locations. The city suspended alternate side parking for another two days, which means the streets won't be swept until Wednesday. This storm has been a reminder of how much trash we produce, and has shown that a little water can bring its detritus out of hiding.
I am concerned about Newton Creek and Gowanus Canals -- both are classified as Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites. What is in the residue left in the streets after the recession of the flood waters? These water ways are polluted with sewage and petrochemicals and "potentially harmful chemicals that can be released into the air" from 150 years as industrial shipping ports.
While the challenges are daunting, it seems New Yorkers are eager to connect and find ways to help each other.