I am writing this blog so tired that I can barely think, but I just have so much to say. As many of you know, this weekend I came across a story of a family that had lost everything in Hurricane Sandy. their home, their cars, and everything they owned. This wasn’t the only story like this I had heard, but something struck a chord with me and I just couldn’t shake it. The husband was one of the first responders to ground zero on 911, and had worked there for 9 months. Now, he has terminal cancer. Plus he’s diabetic. They had moved to the Jersey Shore because he wanted to live out his days by the beach, with less stress. Now, they are homeless. I was trying to find a family to help, and this, my friends, was the family I chose.
One phone call with the wife and I knew I had met a “sista from another mista”. I felt, from that first conversation, that I had known her my whole life. She told me they hadn’t evacuated because her they didn’t want to leave their sons, who were firefighters and staying, they also couldn’t leave with their dogs because no shelters there would allow them. They chose to stay and ride it out. I had always been someone who thought “why don’t people just evacuate when they are told to?” yet for some reason, i understood, as a mother, why they wouldn’t leave their sons on the island. I promised her I was coming the next morning, and told her I would bring her husband the insulin they needed.
I barely slept a wink last night. I was nervous. Would I have enough gas to get there and back? Would I be able to get the supplies there? There is currently a gas shortage, and in NJ they ration each day according to whether your license plate has an odd or even number. I had the right plate for the day, but the lines could run a half mile long. The other issue I knew I would face is that the family live on Long Beach Island, and the island is closed off completely and blocked off by the national guard. We had made alternative plans, but I really wanted to meet the family. The other issue I faced, was that they were 3 hours away. I set off this morning with my car jam packed with supplied and donations. What to give those who had lost everything??
Along the way, I passed one car accident, more roadkill than I can tell you about (or would ever want to), tons of downed trees, and strangely, one young boy of about 10 or 12 wandering around on the median of the Garden State Turnpike! He was wandering with cars whizzing past him at 80 mph as he pulled wooden spikes out of the ground. Not a parked car or adult anywhere to be seen. I couldn’t pull over, so I called 911. I’m not even sure if they believed me, but they promised to send a squad car out to search.
I arrived at LBI, and drove up to the bridge, on the side of the road was a toppled RV, and boats strewn about in ditches. I went to the first checkpoint and was shocked when they told me to proceed. I went to the second checkpoint and explained who I was, why I was there, and who I was trying to help. The guards asked a police officer to come over. He heard my tale, and asked me to clarify who I was there to see. “I’ll escort you myself” he said. I couldn’t believe it…I almost shrieked with glee! I had access. They were letting almost NOBODY over. This was huge…and a testament to the family I was trying to help. He asked how I knew them..I told him I didn’t, I just knew they needed help. He shook my hand and thanked me.
I met the family and was given hugs. There were tears. I cried too. I was taken to their house where they had weathered the storm. The neighborhood was devastated. Boats slammed through houses, garage doors and house doors ripped off. Refrigerators were washed outside. “see that green house across there?” she asked me. I replied I did. She pointed to a space next to it. “There was a house there. I don’t know where it went. A whole house…disappeared.”. We entered her house. The first thing that hit me was the smell of flooding and water. The air felt damp and heavy. Everything was covered in mud. There were marks on the walls over four feet high where the water had come in. The stove had water in it. It was easy to see the water had picked up everything downstairs and dumped it elsewhere. Dressers were moved or tipped over. A lifetime of memories were sodden, muddy, and destroyed. I looked at her in horror. Nothing appeared salvageable. What do you say? She looked at me and said “I can’t believe I’m homeless”. My ears welled up with tears. It seemed completely unreal that this had happened, especially when the sun shines brightly on the bay, making the water sparkle.
We walked around the neighborhood and surveyed the damage. I took a few pictures with my phone. I wish I had had a better camera, because it’s impossible to show the level of devastation. I saw a mountain of wood blocking a yard. “that was their back deck”. I saw a boat smashed into a house, but resting on a garbage pail. I saw their cars, misted windows from the dampness on the inside, items inside had obviously been floating. The gas had been cut off to the island. When the power company attempted to restore power, 4 houses exploded due to an undiscovered gas leak. She told me how they had a little swimming dock, and she had been out before the storm tying it up frantically and her family had been laughing at her tying all sorts of knots and ropes, that dock was right where it should be, safe and sound. I couldn’t help it…when I’m nervous I make jokes. “who knew the cars would have been safer parked on that dock you spiderwebbed to safety?” I asked. That made us both burst out laughing. You have to find humor, or you’d never stop crying. The other moment of humor we found was a rowboat that had floated down the street and landed on a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant had broken through the bottom of the boat and it looked almost like a decoration in its absurdity. The boats’s name? “Life’s a Beeeetch,”. The irony of it had us in stitches.
Now, keep in mind, there is pretty much nobody on the island…save for a few people at the fire stations, some national guard members (who were there as 4 pm drew closer as there has been some looting), and us. The streets were EMPTY. You couldn’t see any cars or people hardly at all. It was like life after the apocalypse. I never knew silence could be so eerie. There were streets so full of sand they were impassible. Houses were ripped to shreds.
Before I left, we stopped at the Surf City fire station, where they were setting up clothes, food and water for people. There was a decent supply, but many on the island were still unable to return. They were in for a rude awakening. My newfound friend introduced me to everyone at the fire station. I met Art, an 86 year old man who had lost everything. He was camping out at the fire station. It was heart wrenching.
I almost didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and help them however I could, but I had to go. There are curfews and national guard patrols at night. The fact I had gotten ON the island was a miracle…I wasn’t going to push my luck!
After I said goodbye, with hugs and agreement we would be lifelong friends, I pulled the car down the street. Then I stopped, when I was out of eyeshot, and burst into tears. How unfair that this family had given so much during 911, only to have the husband end up with not only diabetes, blindness, but cancer as well. I cried for them having to deal with all of that, knowing what cancer and diabetes does to a family, and then I bawled for them losing their home and cars. They had moved there to live as stress free as possible, and now…the stress was mind blowing. the insurance companies wouldn’t pay out for the cars because they said they were supposed to evacuate. Never mind two of the car owners were on the island as firefighters! It was sickening.
I drove home in about 4 hours. I stopped to check Twitter at a rest stop, Half the tweets were people trying to help victims of the hurricane, and the other half were whining about political candidates and trying to push their agendas. I wanted to scream….”we need to help all these people!!!!”. I know that after Sandy, we were fortunate to have power after the storm and nearly no damage, I live about a mile from the coast. I was in shock we had fared so well. I think a lot of people thought the storm wasn’t so bad. Areas like Staten Island, Rockaway, and LBI to name just a few were devastated. I’m not writing this blog to make myself out to be something special
for going, but to give you a clue of the turmoil and complete devastation these people are facing. The wife tried to apply to FEMA for help, but was denied because she could’t get off the island to sign the paper they wanted signed. She is frantic.
Please. Contact the fire departments and ask what people need. Help people. Hell, drive down and give them a hug and some tequila. Hand them a 20$ bill. Help them clean up the damage. Do SOMETHING. It’s what makes us human. Help in whatever way you can, big or small. Foster a pet for them. Do some laundry. Bring fresh pillows and towels. Bring coffee.
I drove about 7 hours round trip to help a stranger and to teach my kids how to be kind. It was the best lesson I could teach them, and they are proud of me. They learned from the pictures how lucky we are to have a home. I made lifelong friends today. I feel like I have known them my whole life. It’s kind of eerie. I am mobilizing people to continue to send supplies down there. Please don’t forget these families. If you know anyone in the LBI area who will have a rental where this family can stay, please let me know. When they called one place, the landlord changed the rent from the advertised price of 1400 per month to over 2,000. They need a home. Help me help them.
Night Loveys. Thanks to all those who cheered me on, and to those who are out there doing great deeds!
Ps…sorry if lines don’t make sense or typos…writing on an iPad with a bad autocorrect and I am exhausted!!!