Trying to forget Sandy

"Trying to forget Sandy" Continued...

Issue: "Moneymaker," March 23, 2013

Rubin’s first floor flooded, sending her washer, dryer, stove, and refrigerator floating up to the ceiling. The floor had to be gutted. Rubin and her family also lost three cars in the flooding. Rubin’s church, Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the OPC’s disaster crew have worked on her home over the last several months. Now the downstairs is stripped down and clean, with a new washer and dryer. It awaits new insulation and rewiring. Rubin is effusive about the church’s help but her biggest hurdle now is her own discouragement.

“I said, ‘Lord, please let them condemn my house, I don’t want to be here anymore.’ I’m psychologically done.”

Zarek reminded her that spring was coming. The seawater killed Rubin’s garden, but she plans to dig up the ruined soil and replant.

Red Hook

Parts of the region are already replanting. Chris DeCamps, a vessel manager at his family’s tugboat company in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is almost upbeat about his family business, the Vane Brothers Company, in the storm’s aftermath. Sandy destroyed the business’ inventory of equipment for various operations on the water, along with its computers.

“Given what’s happened, things are pretty good,” said DeCamps. DeCamps own apartment was flooded in the storm and he moved onto one of the tugboats to live. Now his apartment is rebuilt, and he’s moved back to solid ground. “As devastating as it was, the people in the industry weren’t as affected because we’re used to water events, to unforeseen dramatic events. They see boats come in damaged. The guys just rolled with it.” 

The Vane Brothers tugboat operation was critical in New York’s recovery, as a part of the logistical chain that serviced larger boats and transported barges of essentials like fuel that were in short supply. So even though navigation channels were obstructed and the harbor damaged and the business’ inventory flooded, the tugboat company had to jump-start or the chain would break down even more than it already had. In the midst of the gas shortage, the tugboat business shuttled oil to transfer stations, the critical gas distributors that were knocked out in the storm. The business also started helping with repairs to the harbor.

“We were trying to do this from cell phones, so we were just improvising,” said DeCamps. “We had to be operational.” 

Staten Island

“The two bathrooms are operational!” Pastor Tim McIntyre announced to about 40 members of his church at the 9 a.m. service one Sunday morning in late February. Oasis Christian Center stands in the middle of one of the worst-hit parts of Staten Island—Midland Beach, a tiny neighborhood where the storm killed eight people. Midland Beach is a blue collar neighborhood, full of construction workers, firefighters, and police officers. McIntyre himself has a background in carpentry that he dusted off as his church helped the neighborhood rebuild.

The storm wiped out the church’s first floor, its kitchen, and Sunday school area—including its bathrooms. Until February, the church held worship services at another church nearby. At the end of February, the first floor was entirely rehabbed, with new walls, ceilings, and a new kitchen. Twenty-seven families connected to the small church either lost their first floors or their entire homes. 

Despite its own damage, Oasis became the neighborhood’s nerve center during Sandy: Disaster relief groups used the church as a platform to find and meet needs. The Mennonite Disaster Service is still working in the neighborhood, and plans to be there for the long haul. (The MDS group that arrived in Midland Beach had spent the last eight years in New Orleans rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, according to McIntyre.) The church sent out 300 work orders for homes in the neighborhood, and the Staten Island Association of Evangelicals, which worked through Oasis, eventually covered 2,500 homes. 

“For the first time, the church on Staten Island is being looked on favorably,” said McIntyre. “FEMA is now looking to the churches to be first responders. They’re setting up a system now so that if something were to happen again, God forbid, they come to us first.” The New York mayor’s office recently held a mold remediation seminar for the neighborhood at the church.

The city was still hauling dump trucks full of debris to a post-Sandy landfill that stands a few stories tall. A city worker at the landfill said he expected to be on the job for a month or two, but now he doesn’t know when the city will stop collecting debris. Chain link fences around a baseball field are curled and blown in, and downed trees still lie on the field. McIntyre said many people left their homes after the storm and haven’t been back. For that reason, police cars and spotlights sit on every corner of the neighborhood, to guard against looting. 


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