Final Deployment Blog, Part 8

Tuesday, November 13

Hurricane Sandy 2012

Today was our last day here. Roger and I will be returning home tomorrow. The Rochester ERV 1152 will be staying here to soldier on with a different crew.

I’m finding that I have a rather complex bouquet of emotions about leaving. I’m joyful about returning to my loved ones and the comfort of home. I’m conflicted about leaving the task unfinished. As I meet and talk to these people, they become part of my reality, my family, and I want to stay and continue to help them rebuild.

I’m so impressed by the strength of the human spirit after a disaster. The majority get past the shock of the destruction rather quickly and are ready and eager to rebuild their lives.

Deployment Blog, Part 7

Monday, November 12th

It is now two weeks since the storm. Progress is being made in the clean up process but it feels like slow motion. Many streets are still blocked by debris and the occasional boat several blocks from the water. Except for some public buildings powered by large portable generators and some small businesses and homes running on small generators, there is no electrical power on the barrier islands.

Nighttime is eerie. The only lighting is provided by large portable units placed at intersections and some gathering sites.The street population changes from day people to night people. Police presence intensifies. Many people living here have no place to go and no place of comfort in their homes and apartments. Basements and the first floor of buildings were flooded and partially filled with sand. Residential streets are filled with soggy drywall, warped flooring, and destroyed possessions. Temporary landfills cover huge areas of public land.

Most streets and highways connecting the islands to the mainland are open but congested and some public transportation has been restored. There are no supermarkets or other large retail establishments open. Many people are totally dependent upon food and resources that are being brought in by relief crews.

Deployment Blog, Entry 6

Sunday, November 11

It’s Sunday morning, Veterans’ Day. A beautiful morning out on Breezy Point.

The last few days have been a blur. We have been working some very long days which are made even longer by the insane traffic congestion. Eight of our ERVs in our group of 30 are out of action due to traffic accidents. The organization is finally coming together, but not without some times of considerable difficulty and frustration. Decisions about kitchen site operation, ERV scheduling, and routing are being made by people far removed and without input from the front. I guess it’s typical but…. very wasteful and demoralizing for those of us that are trying to accomplish the mission of serving those most in need.

Despite the difficulties and frustrations, we are getting the job done. Almost all of the national ERVs are now deployed to the east coast. It has taken some a week to get here from the west. We are also seeing many groups of people from all over showing up with truckloads and carloads of supplies and food. Some are setting up feeding stations on the streets which then become one-stop gathering, shopping, and entertainment centers. The range of donated supplies is amazing. We will park an ERV at these sites and provide hot meals, snacks, fruit, and water until we exhaust our supplies. We can carry about 500 meals per run. Once a site is established, we try to meet demand with multiple trucks daily. It’s not enough, but we are working as hard as we can. The field kitchens are prepping and cooking around the clock, and the ERV crews are on the road from early morning until well after dark.

Hurricane Sandy 2012

Deployment Blog, Entry 5

Wednesday, November 8

It’s a cold, blustery morning. About 30 ERVs are waiting at our kitchen/staging area for our assignments. The barrier island that we’re sitting on was evacuated last night in preparation for the next nor’easter that is supposed to peak sometime early this afternoon. The kitchen is shut down.

There is nothing here for us. Time passes… We managed to pick up a couple hundred catered meals and sandwiches form the Aqueduct kitchen shortly after noon and got them distributed to the public housing in Coney.

Most of our units got one run in before running from the storm. Too little, but better than nothing. Lots of rain and wind with mixed snow this afternoon. Time passes… Now 7pm and  two inches of snow outside of our hotel. Expecting 3-6 inches tonight, but mid 40 degrees by tomorrow afternoon. I know that our efforts are greatly appreciated, people are very grateful and offer their thanks and blessings. I can’t help feeling that so much more is needed.

November 8, 2012. Long Island, New York. Red Cross emergency response vehicles travel through Long Beach, New York, handing out meals and water to the residents.

Deployment Blog, Entry 4

Monday, November 5

We’ve been busy for the last couple of days. Still concentrating our efforts on Coney Island. Yesterday a lot of spontaneous volunteers (several that were planning to run in the cancelled NYC marathon) happened by our ERV and asked what they could do to help. We loaded them up with blankets and food and sent them into the high rise public housing to find people that couldn’t get out. The buildings are still without power so the stairways are dark.

They made several trips into the buildings and assisted many very thankful residents. Several outside community groups are coming in and setting up food and clothing tables on the streets. Many people approach our unit each day asking how and where they can help. The American spirit is alive and well and awe-inspiring. I have seen people who would never think of coming into these neighborhoods under normal circumstances reaching out to people in need without reservation.

The number of emergency response crews coming into this area is just incredible. There is an old military complex at the south end of Brooklyn that includes Floyd Bennett Naval Air Station and Fort Tilden. Some of it is used as community parks, but most is vacant land and decrepit buildings.

There are two field kitchens set up in this complex. One that is provided and staffed by the Southern Baptist of Virginia and the other by Red Cross Volunteers. There are now acres of loaded semi-trailers filled with who knows what and hundreds of ambulances with EMT crews living in tents. All kinds of repair crews and equipment. I’ve never seen anything like it. At this rate, it seems this area will be totally restored in a week. I know that the actual time frame is much longer and far more difficult, but it seems like the entire country has focused its attention on the relatively small area that I am able to see.

Some of the folks from the Mexican Red Cross came to help and pick up supplies at Kitchen 3.

Deployment Blog, Entry 3

Friday, November 2

First time that I’ve been in Coney Island in forty years. It sure looked different from my memories. I doubt that it will ever recover the unique grit and charm from before the storm. The beach sand is piled up in the streets and all of the store fronts and amusements are wrecked. We loaded up two [emergency response vehicles] (Rochester 1152 and Meridian MS 1226) with meals ready to eat and snacks at the staging area at Aqueduct Race track.

The NYPD joined up with us with loads of drinks and provided us with a police escort to a public housing area in Coney Island. We had hundreds of people swarm the area as soon as we arrived. The police set up a very orderly distribution line. We were empty long before everyone was served. The real heartbreak there is that these are sixteen story buildings full of senior citizens. No power or water. No elevators. The emergency lighting gave out days ago. Many of these people haven’t been out of their apartments since the storm.

Several people approached me with stories of elderly people in need of medications and water and no one is available to help them. It makes our navigation and fuel problems and lack of food and sleep totally insignificant.

Tomorrow is another day. On the road at 0530 to do it all again. The Southern Baptist kitchens will be in full swing tomorrow. We can start to provide hot meals. Each new day will get a little bit better.

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Deployment Blog, Entries 1 & 2

The following is a journal entry sent from volunteers Jerry Lalonde, of Naples, and Roger Kessler, of Canandaigua, who deployed to the New York City/Long Island area in response to Hurricane Sandy. Both are Emergency Response Vehicle Drivers, a task that puts them on the front lines of the disaster region. Follow their story here as we walk through their days.

Wednesday, October 31

Roger and I left Rochester this morning aboard the [emergency response vehicle] ERV bound for White Plains, NY. Tonight, we get to stay at the Hyatt House. Tomorrow morning, we will get our assignment back to reality.

Thursday, November 1

Reality Sucks. We went out to Long Beach, Long Island today to deliver food to some very hungry people in a very devastated area. Long Beach is a large, heavily populated sandbar on the south side of Long Island. It was all underwater and windswept by the storm. A large portion of the population chose not to evacuate. They now have no power, no water, no food, no fuel, no sewers. And those are the ones that still have a place to live.They are hungry and thirsty and amazed that the storm actually happened. The Red Cross and other organizations are just getting the relief effort together.

Many of the roads and streets are still impassible, but much better than expected. There is no traffic control and apparently no travel restrictions. A few gas stations are running on generators and the streets near them are impassible. Gridlock is normal. It took us hours to move a few miles. To make matters worse, much of Long Island is traversed by “parkways”… No commercial traffic – 9ft. clearance. Not good when you have an 11ft. truck. The GPS doesn’t know that you can’t use those roads and the maps that we have are not very detailed. “You can’t get there from here.”

Our feeding destination was 30 miles from the hotel. Four hours each way… most of that for the last ten miles. Not fun. The good news is, we managed to feed about 600 people from our unit and there were four units working. So, we made some progress. Tomorrow will be better because five field kitchens will be coming online and we have mapped out some routes that sorta work.

This is the first time that I’ve been this close to the devastation. It’s a very heart-wrenching place to be. Many of these people set themselves up for their grief, but they are hurting and we are here to do what we can to help them survive and recover.

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