I Thought I Was in Haiti, But Was in My Hometown of Staten Island

Staten Island boats crashed into houses
by Elaine Brower

Five days after Hurricane Sandy, and little relief from government agencies, the people in Staten Island came out with a thunderous rage and unmatched relief effort.

The “zombies” I had seen on Tuesday, the first day of the aftermath where people were stunned, were gone. Humans replaced them oddly enough.

I decided to get out into the communities hardest hit to offer any assistance I could. No gasoline in my own car, I had to borrow my husband’s, who fortunately had a full tank. I cooked some spaghetti, after all it is Staten Island, and headed to a hard hit beach area in Oakwood, below Hylan Boulevard. On Guyon Avenue there was an oasis of help. Dozens of people had created a makeshift central distribution center of supplies for those who had lost everything. Facebook, Twitter and the website www.statenisland.recovers.org had called people out to bring whatever they could to help.

It really was an unbelievable site, something I had seen in Haiti 2 years ago after the major earthquake killed hundreds of thousands, and left millions stranded. Surrounded by rubble and debris from homes that were flooded or crushed by trees that were once stately and magnificent, this haven had people from the community supplied with whatever they needed while they were recuperating emotionally and physically from the storm. Hot food, and cleaning supplies, as well as blankets and socks were in demand. People walked for blocks to get what they could and carried it back to their dark homes. Those of us who could, travelled through the streets delivering supplies. Some of us were able to load up our vehicles and make trips to other parts of hard hit Staten Island communities.

The last time I witnessed anything like this was in Haiti, where I was watching Haitians, who lost entire families because of the earthquake, dig themselves out, set up makeshift tarp tent cities while the UN and US personnel deployed there along with hundreds of NGO’s like the Red Cross, stand by and watch for the most part. Those of us who were not affiliated with any organizational entity did the most work on the ground in Haiti. The US military guarded the embassy in full body armor holding guns with arms folded.

Except here in Staten Island, there were no onlookers. There were no governmental agencies anywhere I could see. In fact people at the relief site were all talking about how there was such a lack of government help, or Red Cross trucks. Many felt abandoned, but most decided that the “talking political pundits” they had heard promising relief, were full of crap. The base camp of FEMA and first responders was only a few blocks away from this Guyon Avenue relief site, but those attached to either the National Guard, or FEMA were standing behind the massive fences of the beach area, with their huge generators, tents and trucks.

I decided to leave my hot food there, along with other trays, and load up my car to deploy with relief to other areas. I met Lynne, who decided to go with me and help. We took skids of water, blankets, cleaning supplies, snacks and hygiene items. We decided to head to Cedargrove Avenue, which we were told needed what we had. The traffic was unimaginable. As we inched down Hylan Boulevard in that direction, it was a complete chaotic madhouse. I’m not sure how people were driving around since gas was nowhere to be found, but yet there they were. It was so odd to travel only 2 blocks and see normalcy. Drivers talking on cell phones, radios blaring, Gucci sunglasses, and shopping bags. Like nothing happened, or no one was only a few blocks crying because they lost everything. It is hard to comprehend when you are working with hundreds of people on a relief effort.

The police had the area closed off where we headed, so we decided to go right to the Midland Beach area, one of the hardest hit. In our miles of travel, we saw ONE Red Cross van, and nothing else. Now mind you we were driving just a few blocks from “ground zero,” on the main road. Lynne was checking facebook and twitter as I drove for other areas that needed help. She was plugged into all the social network feeds, and kept updating me. As we headed to Midland Avenue, she saw a feed that said one location had so much stuff they wanted people to get it. We got to Egbert Junior High School to find that almost the entire back half of the open parking lot in the school was flooded with supplies. Getting more hats, gloves, and warm items, we stuffed them into my already stuffed car, and kept driving.

There was a lot of activity at the south beach area, so we kept driving. Lynne saw that people in Great Kills, where boats were strewn about by the hurricane, needed everything. So we turned around and headed to that other beach area, asking people as we drove if they needed anything. Arriving at the “marina” we found police guarding the battered boats, as well as one van of a few National Guard soldiers handing out blankets. There was a guy with a pizza truck feeding people, so we looked for those who called for help via facebook. Finally we spotted a few tables just arranged by about 5 people who had some supplies out. We stopped and unloaded our car. They were so thankful for warm socks, blankets, coats and food. The houses were completed gutted by flooding, and the community was together ripping out the destroyed furniture, as the National Guard drove off.

They said they wanted hot food, and more socks. So we headed back to the Guyon Avenue site, which isn’t that far. As we drove up a caterer had just dropped off 10 trays of hot food, rolls, sandwiches and coffee. We took 4 trays, and whatever else we could get into the car, and headed back to Great Kills. I had already been driving almost 4 hours, and it was starting to get dark. Some lights were working, but most weren’t. We got back and when I opened up the tray of hot chicken fingers, I was rewarded by the smiles, especially the little kids who were so hungry. Everyone gathered around taking food, and the spirits were high. Just then I saw Congressman Michael Grimm appear out of nowhere. He looked right at me and said thank you for what I was doing. I really couldn’t respond since I was caught off guard. I wanted to say to him “how dare you show up here with nothing. No food, batteries, blankets, nothing.” He just came for the photo op and political boost riding around the devastated neighborhoods would give him.

From that location Lynne and I travelled back to the Guyon Avenue relief site, in the dark. The place had accumulated triple the amount of supplies since we had left over an hour ago. I decided to load up the car again with sandwiches and supplies and head back to the beach area where FEMA had set up their headquarters. Traffic had lightened up and when I arrived at the homes that had literally washed away, only news crews were there. I found another little station of relief hoping to give them what I had, but they were closing up shop for the night. Then I stumbled upon Alice. She was “guarding” her corner home from looters. She was freezing, standing in the front of her home across from a tossed street light. I got out and offered her supplies, she only wanted a blanket. We got to chatting and she went on a rant about the Red Cross. She told me she “always donated every single time all her life to the Red Cross but never would again.” She was angry, disappointed, outraged and sad all at the same time. As I looked over, I saw Geraldo Rivera in his limo with driver and security right next to us. She said she told him just moments ago how angry she was and how she felt that she had to stay in her home, cold and hungry, because there was no help.

When I got home I turned on “Geraldo LIVE” and was hoping to see Alice. Nope. Geraldo was standing at the FEMA command and control center with Red Cross volunteers praising their work, the work of all the first responders, and a few “regular” people who had been there dropping off stuff they had left from relief work they did in Brooklyn. I never saw the clip of Alice, nor will we ever see that on national corporate media.   The crap being fed to the world is literally a happy face of how great things are for us at ground zero. Don’t buy it. People are hurting big time, and the only help is from other people who give a damn.

Watch Elaine's videos from Staten Island.

See elaine.worldcantwait.net for more updates on the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

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