- Neil is hurt not because of the devastation caused by Sandy but just by the thought of people wanting to break in and steal what is left over
- Steve lived here all through his life and said he wouldn’t leave now
- Maggie, when found pictures of the kids in the dirt, she said, she is doing her best to save what she can
The three people whose lives, not just the houses, got impacted by the fury of the storm called “Sandy”. They belong to the Rockaway in Queens, one of the worst affected areas in NY.
Location, Location & Location
I wanted to help, but I simply cannot drive to the affected areas and pick up a showel and start cleaning up. It’s not that simple. I needed to know which street, which block and which house or shelter needs help and what kind of help. And I certainly didn’t want to go alone since the level of devastation demanded more helping hands. So information and accuracy became really important. But thanks to the internet, facebook and a good circle of friends, I got a few leads for different places in New Jersey and New York. And after about 10 – 15 email exchanges, about 10 or so phone calls, I was able to zero in on the exact location, the time and also the need.
Once information became clear, friends of mine were more than happy to sign up. While the original plan was to do the volunteering work on a Saturday, due to logistical reasons, I had to push it to Sunday. However, this meant that Shravanti and her friends couldn’t make it. Archana, unfortunately got sick and I could hardly recognize her voice when I spoke to her. Navin was already helping out a lot with collecting relief material and dropping off at the shelters and although she wanted to join us, she couldn’t because of last minute scheduling conflicts. So it was Santosh, Manasa, Vamsi, Pranathi, Srinu, Rajani and Myself – the Team.
And although Sireesha(my wife) was not directly involved, she had a major role in all this. She wasn’t feeling all that well and on top of that had to take care of the two kids, and that’s equally challenging or sometimes even more. But she said she can handle it and that pushed me a bit more.
The Ground Team
Obviously living in Jersey, this information was not that easily available and even if it were, the logistics of handling this would have bee difficult. But thanks to the team of Seshadri(Sesh), Devi, Aparna, Sunder, Neolina, Jay who have been coordinating activities at the ground and have been involved in relief efforts since day 1. Despite being busy with their efforts, they answered my calls, responded to my emails and gave me valuable information and also guided me through the Do’s and Dont’s.
Sesh’s experience with the relief efforts coupled with the knowledge of the locality, helped the 7 of us to waste no time and get down to business straight away. With gloves to protect our hands, masks for the nose, showels to dig and brooms to clean we were equipped with all the ammunition.
Let the Cleanup Begin
We started with cleaning up Maggie’s backyards that involved picking up the debris, cleaning the furniture and disinfecting them. This was more of a warm up exercise and didn’t involve any heavy lifting. We did find lot of family pictures, portraits in the debris, which when we handed over to Maggie, she said that her family took many such pictures and are in the process of drying and restoring them.
Right across the street was Steve, whose garage was filled with all sorts of things that spanned 4 generations. The carefully packed and labelled boxes were filled with water since the whole garage was flooded with water, so it made the clean up all the more difficult. Carefully one after the other, we moved everything out of the garage and before we realized we had golf clubs, christmas lights, memorabilia’s, books, albums, audio cassettes, audio CD’s, bicycles, furniture cabinets and not to forget a 120 CC bike from Honda. All of us took turns to pose with the bike including the women gang. As things were winding down Sesh was working on our stop over.
Neil’s house further down and with no power which meant no traffic lights, this area was still cut off from the main stream. Neil got his family to a safe location before the storm hit but he chose to stay back. His living room, the basement, the garage were all flooded with water. He and his brother found a safe zone in the first floor. Although the water receded and the water from the basement was pumped out, the garage was not attended to. It was time for the 7 of us to move swiftly and clean up the garage.
With 2 clean up acts on our resume, the team knew what and how it had to be done. A human chain from the garage leading up to the street was formed and in about a couple of hours time about 60% of the garage was emptied. In between there were challenges with heavy duty items but the team managed deftly. Oh and I almost forgot, we found a collectible item – A Sword. When we asked Neil if we could throw it away he said he is afraid it’s going to get into the wrong hands and said he will hold on it.
Neil was very delighted to see the results and expressed his heartfelt gratitudes. And so did Steve and Maggie. They couldn’t believe when we said we came all the way from Central Jersey, especially given the traffic conditions and were very happy that we helped them to move on.
A long drawn relief that needs everyone’s help
Sandy may have gone, but the devastation still remains. Most of the east cost experienced what it is like to live without power. But to live without heat, power, with mould due to flooding, with a house in a disarray and especially when the winter is fast approaching, it’s simply un imaginable. What we did today is in no way enough for Maggie, Steve and Neil to get back to their lives but we definitely did move them a step in that direction. I wouldn’t say a step closer, since this is a long drawn recovery process and needs every bit of help they can get.
We could have easily been a Steve or a Neil but were very fortunate to escape Sandy with just a minor scare and hence it’s our moral obligation to make use of our good fortune and extend our help to whoever we can.