Just Happened to capture this guy's story from this past weekend in NY, from trying to help....His FB page is posted at the bottom
Saturday morning started with a trip to the Brooklyn CostCo with a group of friends to pick up supplies. We were working with 501c3 status but I was determined to get more for our donated dollars. When the guy helping us told me the manager said 'no', I asked to speak to him personally.
He told me that, in order to get a discount, we had to come with a letter on our organi...
zation's letter-head. When I pointed out that this was kind of a disaster situation and that CostCo certainly wasn't going out of their way to advertise this rather silly stipulation, he agreed to submit our request to the national office but said a discount could not be guaranteed. When I pointed out that they were doing some big business this week, he pointed to a xeroxed sign that advertised CostCo as a collection sight for the Red Cross. When I pointed out that they were simply taking donations from their customers and then handing it over to the Red Cross, he said that they had a policy of giving to many local organizations: "You know, 25, 50 dolla's a pop. Somethin' like dat." I thanked him for his time and got the hell out of there.
When we got to Staten Island we hit stop-and-go traffic almost immediately. Roads were clogged with relief vehicles, volunteers, dump trucks... compounding all of this was the presence of thousands of dead vehicles, flooded out and useless.
We began to see lines of people, a block or two long, at all the gas stations. They were holding gas cans, waiting for their rationed...
allotment, and being monitored by local police.
As we approached the southern end, the telephone polls, almost all of them were cracked and leaning at precarious angles.
Near one beach area we could already see hundreds of FEMA trailers set up. Helicopters whizzed overhead. We couldn't find a place to park, so we got directions to the FEMA drop-off zone and headed that way.
We found a large parking lot roped off with police tape. Seeing that we had three vehicles packed with supplies, they let us through. A high-ranking member of the NYPD was coordinating with an FDNY official, a FEMA rep and a Salvation Army dude. The four of them worked in unison directing donations as they flew in; directing traffic as vehicles came in the load up water and the National Guard arrived; collaborating on mapped areas that still hadn't received aid; sharing communication as it came it. In short, it was barely controlled chaos.
Before we knew it, we were unloading other people's cars and they were helping us to unload ours. No hello's, no shaking hands. There was a universal understanding that time was not a luxury we had at that moment.
At a certain point, we all agreed that we wanted to don our work gloves and head into affected areas. The Salvation Army dude... this guy was the definition of grace under fire. When my friend Dave asked him where we should go, he whipped out a laminated map, turned Dave's body so it faced north, designated an area and told us to focus on helping people to clear their basements and first floors.
We loaded up and got out of the hell out of there. It was like we all breathed for the first time in 15 minutes. That is, until we made it into our designated area...
We began making our way through streets that were sometimes indiscernible from dirt roads, so much sand and refuse was washed up. Telephone poles tilted and power lines, snapped and exposed, still hung in the streets like black vines. Every now and then we had to ford intersections that were still flooded and made us glad we were driving 4-wheel drives.
When we got to the i...
ntersection we were looking for, we could see that every house was being emptied by its inhabitants. We parked. When I opened the door and stepped out, my foot immediately sank into a gutter wash of sand mixed with raw sewage. The entire block smelled like a mixture of salt water, seaweed, sewage and the beginnings of mold.
We started walking down the block looking for homes with mostly women or elderly people. Some couldn't believe that strangers were walking up and offering to help them. "Really? You want to do this?" an elderly man said with a thick Russian accent. I donned my gloves and said, "Hell yeah. That's what I'm here for!" I stopped, my enthusiasm suddenly undercut by the fact that he was starting to cry.
His daughter and granddaughters took me inside the first level/basement. There was a sectional sofa and several large pieces of furniture covered by crumbled drywall and swimming in filth. I have to say here that you have not moved a couch until you have moved a couch soaked in raw sewage. Several of us spent about a half an hour emptying the whole place out. An old woman mumbled something to me as four of us drug the leaden, blackened carpet out into the street. The daughter said, "My mother says 'God bless you'".
Then they took us into the back yard. "You have to see the shed," their daughter said. They're storage shed was tilted backward at a 45 degree angle where it had come to rest after it was buoyed by the flood and then released. Miraculously, all of their stored possessions (which included coats and shoes) were bone dry. They thanked us and we moved on.
Down the block I met an elderly man who was the epitome of optimism. "I lost everything. This right here is all I got." He pointed down at the ground. Laying there was a well-used, bowl-type, charcoal grill. He told me that he lost 250,000 baseball cards. "Willie Mays rookie cards, Pete Rose rookie cards, Sandy Kofax rookie cards, all of 'em gone." I shook his hand and we moved on, walking toward the lower income section...
So we made our way slowly towards the lower income section of Staten Island, working as we went. Along the way, one of my friends said that, while he was helping a middle-aged man clear his basement, the man said, "Check this out." My friend looked where the man was pointing and saw, in a bed, the body of an older man, who had clearly been dead for some time. "My father di...
ed yesterday. Still ain't nobody showed up to take away the body."
The lower income section was discernibly different from where we had been in that most of the houses were not built on high foundations of brick, as had been the case earlier. Most all of these homes were one story, wood frame. The denizens were also moving all of their (now toxic) possessions out into the street. But here you could also see that some of them had made silent piece with the fact that the homes themselves were a lost cause while others still had not realized this.
One man asked us who we were with. We told him we weren't really with anybody, although a few of us were working in conjunction with a 501c3. The man pulled out a handkerchief that bore some esoteric gang logo and said, "These are my people, but your welcome just the same. Come over to the next block." We met him again in front of the house of a woman who needed her stove moved out. We went in and saw that the top of it was covered in filth. A high-water mark cut along the drywall at about eye level to me. We cut the wires behind the stove and lugged it out.
"Who these guys," someone asked our new friend.
"I don't know, but I like 'em!"
We helped clear a few more houses until it came time to begin making our way home. As we took off our gear and photographed our blackened work gloves, several of us started to shake with cold. We mentioned how we hoped that these people's generators would hold out through the night.
On the way home I said to the other people in the car, "You know what the best part of doing this is? There's nothing worse than feeling helpless. And there's nothing better than doing something."
My new friend Dave said that he'd decided to have his friend syphon the gas from his boat in long island into a 60 gallon drum. "Tomorrow," he said, "I'm going to Rockaway to give it to people who need it. You think this is bad, wait until you see Rockaway. You in?" I said I was.
Sunday morning, a bunch of friends (and a few Facebook followers in the area who volunteered) met up in Williamsburg. Dave drove one of the vehicles while his buddy finished syphoning the gas in Long Island. Rik drove the other vehicle. Ten in all, we made our way down to Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn; an area that had been zoned "B" and so was not prepared at all for the risi...
When we got there, we were amazed to find only one fireman on duty overseeing several stacks of bottled water and food. We wanted to drop off supplies and he directed us to their staging building on the other side of the street. Inside was a roughly assembled area that was overrun with loose clothing and supplies. No one was there except for us. After we scratched our head for a while, we decided to start organizing what was there and making more space.
The fireman then informed us that they had received so much aid, they were closing down one of their other drop-off zones and consolidating them.
Dave and I agreed that we should leave the larger group in Gerritsen while he, I and my friend Chris made our way over to Rockaway to meet Paul with the gas. We'd heard that martial law was about to be declared but, if we managed to get into the neighborhood, we'd text the group in Gerritsen and tell them to come over.
We met Paul and his girlfriend, who were in Dave's other truck (a pick-up). We parked dave's primary vehicle and the five of us made our way over the Verrazano Bridge with a 60 gallon drum of gasoline in the bed, as well as several bags of clothing, several bottles of bleach, about 7 shovels, lots of trash bags and a few other items.
When we exited the bridge, the first thing we saw was mountains of garbage occupying the vast, paved, outlying areas of Rockaway. Scavenging birds circled overhead by the hundreds. Maybe thousands.
If Staten Island had been loosely controlled chaos, this was chaos itself. Traffic was congested everywhere you turned; people in surgical masks ran willy-nilly across the road; cops directed traffic where there were no more street lights; other times no one directed traffic where there were no more street lights; people shouted; there was an overwhelming sense of urgency.
When we got to the FEMA drop-off site, the cops held our vehicle outside the cordoned off zone while Dave went in to talk to a FEMA official about how to disperse the gas. We wanted a police escort if possible. After a while Dave came back utterly frustrated and threw up his hands. "They don't want it!"
"What???" I said.
"They're talking liability and hazmat and shit. I don't know." He turned to one of the cops. "What do you think?"
The cop shrugged. "I don't know. Take it down to da gas station."
"Yeah," Dave said sarcastically. "That sounds like a good way to die."
He turned to me, muttered a profanity and said, "We're taking this out ourselves."
We told the cop we wanted to drop off our other dear in the parking lot designated for donations. He let us through and we backed the pick-up truck in.
People were wading through mounds of clothing, scavenging quickly for whatever they could find that was warm. When they saw us pulling up, they didn't stop to watch us. It was as if it was the most normal thing in the world to walk up and start taking things out of the truck. When I got over my initial shock I realized that they were all terribly scared, bordering on panic. I tried to dispense the shovels first, as equitably as I could, hoping that I could keep them from fighting each other. Once these were dispensed, an older gentleman pointed at the barrel and said, "You got gas in there?" The crowd stopped as if listening in unison. I looked at Dave and then I lied. "No. Just water."
We threw out the bags of clothing and stripped off dozens of heavy duty garbage bags. I looked down and realized that the bottles of bleach were gone as were all the other provisions. "Let's get the fuck out of here," Dave said. Paul hopped in the drivers seat and we skedaddled. How in the hell were were going to avoid being attacked with 60 gallons of ostensibly liquid gold in our pick-up?