By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
In the second week after the storm, a Red Cross truck pulled up at the corner.
"But they turned people away because they said it wasn't life or death," Winston says.
Occupy Sandy volunteers have set up a distribution node in the housing complex's common space. "They're making this bearable, barely," Winston says. "Otherwise, no one has been out here. We're alone."
On 112th Street, Terri Bennett is coordinating 10 crews equipped with gas-powered pumps to empty the water still standing in most of the basements nearby. Bennett is here with a handful of friends she met doing recovery work in Haiti after the earthquake. Calling themselves Respond and Rebuild, they've continued to work together on logistical relief in subsequent disasters, and compared with the wide-eyed tenderfoots flooding the Rockaways today, they constitute a sort of volunteer Delta Force.
Bennett and her teammates have partnered with Occupy Sandy, leveraging that group's glut of volunteers to multiply what they're able to do. With 100 people on the pump crews, she estimates they've pumped about 75 homes in the past week.
Respond and Rebuild has already brought in mold-remediation experts and other specialists to train Occupy Sandy team leaders for the next phase of recovery. Today, they're teaching them how to strip and clean flooded basements and first floors, using a house across the street from an Occupy Sandy headquarters as a sort of model.
It's a hard day for the owners of the home, Colleen Dalton and Jeff Vielandi, who are watching the trainees take apart their walls and haul the ruined vestiges of their life out into the yard for disposal.
Dalton is one of 12 siblings, and the house has been in her family for more than 60 years. A retired New York police officer, Dalton still can't believe the failure of the institutional response after the storm.
"The government didn't come," she says. "For the first time in my life, I felt completely abandoned." With the lights out and a minimal police presence, Dalton says she and Vielandi spent the first week after the storm scaring off would-be robbers.
"If the government can't get to me for five days, there should be martial law, a curfew," Dalton says. "To be an American, in 2012 . . ." She trails off. "I'm lucky I'm armed."
Dalton has a pair of bulldogs, and in the stairwell down to her ruined basement, there's still a poster of a specimen of her favorite breed, looking especially hangdog and emitting a mournful speech bubble: "I've had a RUFF day."
Standing amid the warped and buckled floorboards of her living room, Dalton is unsparing in her critique of the institutions that failed her.
On the Red Cross: "The Red Cross stinks," she says. "All that money, they should have been here. I don't think anyone in my family will donate to them again."
On the Long Island Power Authority: "LIPA has no excuse. I heard on 1010 WINS they hope to have our electricity back by Thanksgiving. So based on their track record so far, I'm trying to figure, that means what, by Christmas?"
On the state and city offices of emergency management: "Our local governments have failed us greatly. From our major loss, the gain of the volunteers and people we've met has been invaluable. But I'm not going to say I'm glad this happened."
"Whatever I lost here, I gained more than I lost," Vielandi says, choking back tears. "We went through hairy times. But these kids took my head out of my hands."
The devastation in the Rockaways is vast, the amount of work still to be done—physical, organizational, emotional—is overwhelming. But it's only one corner of the city, and there are many more where the storm hit just as hard. In Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, Red Hook, and Staten Island, the problems are all slightly different. But the commonalities are striking.
On a Sunday two weeks after the storm, the New Dorp section of Staten Island still looks like it was hit by a hurricane. The tiny bungalows down in the flats are mostly ruined. On many of them, you can still see the mark—five and six feet high in places—where the storm surge crested. The streets are full of debris: a sodden couch, a door, deck lumber, the waterlogged ruins of a life piled into heavy black contractor bags waiting for the omnipresent Department of Sanitation trucks to haul them away.
On the broad grassy plain of Miller Field, a white tent glitters in the sun. White trailers cluster in the park, and the heavy trucks of the National Guard idle in orderly rows. It took more than a week after the storm, but FEMA has arrived in New Dorp.
Neighborhood residents are largely unimpressed.
"They're in their little tents, waiting for people to come to them," says Steve Chati, who lives in a brick single-story on Topping Street. "It's ridiculous. You set up all the way over there, we're supposed to come to you? Where were you for the first week? It's offensive."
Two blocks away, a parking lot on Cedar Grove Avenue is swarming with people. Donations are rolling in: huge boxes of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, work gloves, the ubiquitous and universally problematic loads of unsorted clothes. To one side, the staff of Rachael Ray's television show are cooking up hot dogs and baked ziti.