Hurricane Sandy's aftermath through the eyes and words of an eighth grader
November 13, 2012By Sam Gerlach for NewsWorks
My mom and I drove to Staten Island for the second time to help out last Tuesday.
As we arrived, we went directly to the George Cromwell School (PS 38). We met up with our new friend Michelle, who is a teacher there, and went inside. The school was being used as a clothing donation site. Unfortunately, they had to stop holding clothes there because they were to resume school there the next day and they needed their cafeteria/gym/assembly room back.
We dropped off some things we thought they could use, and as we were leaving, we were informed about a part of the school that had been flooded.
When we heard that the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms were flooded and a teacher at the school said that more than half the students in her class had lost their school supplies, we thought about doing a book bag and school supply drive for them with the The Miquon School (where I graduated from).
We also met a young student named Alan who was talking with a teacher, and this was the conversation I heard:
Teacher: How's your house?
Alan: What house? I don't have a house anymore. My neighbor's kitchen washed up into my backyard (said all with large smile on his face).
This was very sad to hear; a little boy who had lost his home.
Talking to victims
As we were heading to the Rebuild Staten Island location to volunteer, we drove past Martha Garcia and her family in tears. We pulled of to the side of the road and approached them with a gift. They were very happy to receive the gift and invited us to see their house. We said yes. Martha led us inside, and the first thing you noticed was the smell, then the mud all over the floor. There was a least 40 inches of water in their house, which ruined most of their new appliances and sent the refrigerator afloat. She called the storm a Tsunami. She told us the backstory of their house and said that they had four generations of women who had lived there.
One of the many reasons we went to Staten Island was to volunteer to help people in need. We accomplished this mission by donating all of our car's contents collected the day before with family and friends. We met lots of people this way.
Of these people, there were two women who had three children under the age of 4. We gave them diapers and wipes and bags to carry it all. It was good to see that what we brought was useful.
Then we heard the Rebuild Staten Island people talking about a house that had been flooded and needed help gutting their first floor and garage. The couple was an older couple from Russia. We were so happy to help them and they told us stories about what they went through staying at their house during the storm.
Across the street, two families died from a transformer explosion which burned their business to the ground. They told us that the day of the storm people were on their roofs yelling for help, but people couldn't help because they also were stranded. They also called the storm a "Tsunami with 16 foot waves that ruined homes even 15 blocks from the beach."
When we were about to leave and head to another site, we met a single mom of 3 kids ages 10, 7 and 3. I approached her with a gift and they seemed to have too much to carry, so we offered to drive it to her shelter which was not very close by. It took about 15 minutes to get there by car.
Essence, the mom, asked if we could stop at her house which got completely flooded and was unusable. She went in and was in tears as she saw her house that isn't a house anymore. Everything was ruined and turned upside down. Luckily, she and her kids evacuated in time for the storm.
As we left her house, she asked if she could go and talked to her neighbor. He is an older man who stayed in the tiny attic crawl space above his house with his mother. His house was completely demolished inside, and he was the only one who was working on clearing it. The Red Cross came down the street and gave out food to Essence, the volunteers, and her family. This was the first time I saw a Red Cross truck in action. People in Staten Island complained about the Red Cross getting there later then they said they would, but they did come to help.
Right next door to Essence two neighbors also died. An older woman and her brother who used to give her milk for her family. Her family was friends with the whole block, and they were always talking about their friends across the street.
Essence and her children said their shelter was "like a jail." It was sad to hear that, but now her family has been moved by FEMA to a hotel in Harlem and they are much happier.
This trip has given me the chance to see what disasters can do to and to help people who are in need. I will remember this trip forever.
Northwest Philly Parents is a partnership between Newsworks and Germantown Avenue Parents.