Almost a month after Sandy: Stories and Lessons

Last week, Barry and I heard a presentation about food sustainability here on Maui where about 90% of our food is imported!   One panelist has been creating urban gardens in N.Y. housing projects for the last 20 years.  When asked about Hurricane Sandy, her one-word answer was, “Apocalyptic!”  Because of the sludge that overflowed the sewers on October 29 when Sandy hit, even the urban gardens have been  destroyed.

For many, the cleanup is long and slow.

This Ortley Beach, New Jersey, beach house was demolished by Hurricane Sandy. Photo taken Nov. 25, almost a month after the storm.

Good news is that on the day before Thanksgiving, the odd-even gas rationing ended in New York City.  Bad news is more than 30,000 people remain without power in New York and New Jersey.  [In New York City, the temperature as I write this blog  is 45F/7C, but winter is on its way].

From: <;

Now 27 days after Sandy,   Barry and I are particularly interested in the people we saw when we were on the East Coast last summer.  Their  reports reflect what thousands of people have been experiencing.

Friends from Ocean City, New Jersey, who live about three blocks from the water,  say, “We are all fine! As bad as it seems, we have been pretty lucky considering how awful it is more to the north of us. The eye of the storm hit really close to Ocean City, so there was more damage to the north. Sandy also sped up so it didn’t hit us at high tide, which would have been worse. We have always been comfortable, never really lost power except when our renter turned it off because she was nervous about water in our electrical outlets. On our upstairs level of our house, it was like nothing happened. Our renter lost almost everything; she salvaged what she could wash. We have to replace walls, appliances, cabinets and doors. Hopefully our insurance will cover everything. We are still waiting on the amount we get. Our renter is anxious to get back in there! So hopefully we can get recovery going pretty quickly. It has been stressful, but we are all fine.  We have no problems with our water and our heater did not get affected. It was high enough off the ground!! We are very grateful!”

Another friend lives miles from the water in Brooklyn.  She says the 70 mph storm winds shook the house.  She was scared.  However,  she had only minor damage although trees a block from her fell onto houses.  She reports, “I know many store owners who took in donations of clothing, food, cleaning supplies etc. and 2 or 3 times a week brought everything to areas where it was needed, particularly in Staten Island and Queens.  [They] are still collecting.  Sadly, the recovery will take years.  Look at the struggling recovery in Louisiana from Katrina.”

Others we know were not as unscathed.  From Canarsie, a neighborhood in southeastern Brooklyn, a  first report from a couple we know was that their whole first floor apartment was destroyed as was her car.  Their house is right on Jamaica Bay, so they had lots of damage.  They lived in a hotel for eight days because they had no power.  During the daylight hours, they would go to their first-floor apartment, tear out the damaged parts and clean.   They returned exhausted to the hotel each night.  They did worry about looting, but that didn’t happen to them.

Now the couple have power and are living back in their upstairs apartment.  Their boiler was ruined, so for now, they are relying on electric heaters.   Because most people have their boilers in their basement or ground floor, many were ruined and boilers are now in big demand as are the installers.  They don’t know when they will be able to get their heat supply replaced.   A son has repaired walls, painted, and is taking care of most of the damage.  They still needs to buy mattresses and a couch and replace bedding and towels.  The couple rent the first-floor apartment.  Besides all their  extra expenses because of the storm, they have lost rent.

She says, “We are taking it one day at a time.   As for myself, I am still a bit traumatized.  But by the grace of God, we still have our health.   We now have electricity too.”  The couple celebrated Thanksgiving Day with a meal cooked in their own kitchen.   Hopefully, they will soon have central heating and their first floor apartment will again be rented.

The people we know were fairly prepared for disaster, are you?    I know that Barry and I need to increase our supplies.    Part of what the American Red Cross recommends includes –

“[S]ix basics you should stock in your home: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies and special items. Keep the items that you would most likely need during an evacuation in an easy-to-carry container  . . . Possible containers include a large, covered trash container, a camping backpack, or a duffel bag.

Water:  Store water in plastic containers such as soft drink bottles. . . Store one gallon of water per person per day (two quarts for drinking, two quarts for food preparation/sanitation).  Keep at least a three-day supply of water for each person in your household.

Food: Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water. If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno. Select food items that are compact and lightweight.  [Have a non-electric can opener].  . .”

For a complete list go to <>.

Also consider that although the American Red Cross suggests at least a three-day supply, now almost four weeks after the storm, 30,0000 people in New York and New Jersey still don’t have power.  Many still aren’t back in their homes.

Consider what you should have to survive at least three days on your own.    Understandably, the Red Cross at first had trouble getting in to the areas of most disaster.   We can’t expect prompt aid when something really serious happens.

Most of the people we know evacuated.  Plan what you would take with you if you have to get out of your home.  Although they have material damage, none of our friends were hurt.  Don’t stay at home just because the previous warning (or previous six warnings) turned out to be unnecessary.  Go when you are told.

If you have doubts, see this powerful video of people who didn’t evacuate:


What about the animals?   <>

Many people and pets will never go back to the home they had before Hurricane Sandy.

One of the hundreds of homes slated for demolition after Hurricane Sandy.   The owner and her family didn’t evacuate.  Luckily, they survived.

“Civi Blitman, 70, was at home in the Rockaways the night Hurricane Sandy sent a wave of seawater crashing over her house, shearing off most of its front half.  She and her family survived the storm, but the house on Beach 134th Street will not. With one room on the second floor sagging perilously, the house will probably face a bulldozer as one of hundreds of structures around Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn that New York City has deemed beyond repair.”  More homes are being inspected to see if they too need to be razed.

From: <>

Small businesses struggle.

Almost a month after the storm, a neighborhood restaurant is still closed.

According to a recent  Wall Street Journal article about businesses impacted by Sandy, interior designer “Ms. Thompson figures she lost some $150,000 in inventory. Recently, her insurance company told her $61,000 of it was covered and that she’ll receive payment in about two weeks. The remainder that she has to pay out of pocket ‘will take a toll on me,’ she said.”   She has laid off two workers.

From: <;

A friend just sent us this good news: “In a move that harkens back to the halcyon days of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative, New York State plans to put 5,000 unemployed people to work in an effort to help with Superstorm Sandy reconstruction,” according to a report in the New York Post.

From: <;

The American Red Cross, other non-profits, and the government are helping.

People line up to receive warm winter coats  from New York Cares. Many people still have no heat in their homes.

Amy Neukom working to remove sand from her parents’ home.

From: <;

Please send contributions to   <> or other non-profits.

As you enjoy the  holiday season, remember to

– Count your blessings,

– Prepare for possible disasters:  this means not only following Red Cross suggestions but more.  Even if you have insurance, you are unlikely to be fully covered (insurance companies are in business to make profits).  Some will be O.K. because they have family help.  Develop good relationships with your neighbors.  What neighbor would need help in an emergency situation?  On whom could you rely?

– And now in the holiday spirit and because those hurt by Sandy need help, we can share what we have.

Aloha, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “Almost a month after Sandy: Stories and Lessons”

  1. Marty Alsofrom says :

    In Wantagh LI the wave went down my block. Thank god my house sits high and I have a natural gas generator which ran my sump pump in the basement. Water came in but went out in sump pump even though we had no electric for a week. My mother who turned 90 during this storm spent a week at my sisters apartment in Manhattan without electric water and running water. My sister lives on the 14 floor. Mom’s basement in Manhattan beach was devistated. Which included her heating system and apartment.So was the whole neighborhood. Water reached a mile into Bklyn. 2000 cars were destroyed at one apartment complex near Lincoln HS. Which also sustained damage.

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Marty: What an ordeal! I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on the 14th floor with no electricity, heat, or running water. And we didn’t realize that the water had come in a mile even to Abraham Lincoln High School! No wonder cars got caught. Another friend who didn’t get damage where she lives says even she has been impacted in profound ways. How’s your mom now? Is she back in her home? How’s your sister?

      And from your experience,
      1) What do you recommend that we do in preparing for any future disaster? and
      2) What agency or group has done the best job in getting help to people? For those who want to give money, which group has been most effective? Why?

      Barry and I wish you a happy, warm, dry, non-eventful holiday season. Aloha, Renee

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