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The Rockaways…One year later.

I was thinking about where we were exactly one year ago today.  Al and I were going back and forth to the Rockaways, often with our six kids, trying to volunteer our time or donate food and supplies…anything to make a difference.

After learning that the Broad Channel Fire Dept lost all of their trucks due to flooding, we started a fundraising campaign and – with the help of our kids selling lemonade outside of apple seeds – raised over $6,000 in a few weeks. Involving our kids in the process of giving was the most positive part of the experience for me. 

It was also amazing to see the tremendous outpouring of love and support that New Yorkers showed to the people of the Rockaways, in Brooklyn and in New Jersey.  The piles of donations, the intentions to help…it was mind-blowing. 

But where are we now?  One year later, I was talking to Tommy Werther and Sue Steinberg, my friends from the UN International School.  I asked them how their neighborhood in East Rockaway is doing today.

- Alison Qualter-Berna

Here is their blog:

Please share it as a reminder – there is obviously more work to be done!

There’s a whole lot of For Sale signs up in my neighborhood. Strange for the fall. Normally, as we are such a summer community, the For Sale signs go up in Spring. I suppose the luxury of perfect timing and Real Estate staging is all lost when you haven’t moved back into your house after evacuating a year ago. The decision not to return at all must be heartbreaking for those people. It would have to be at such a huge loss, both financially and socially.

I can’t imagine what the Real Estate agents say to the influx of tri-state area people who are looking for a good house bargain. My guess is that they spend the majority of their schmoozing talking about the promises. Obama promises. Cuomo promises. Schumer promises. Bloomberg promises. FEMA promises. Red Cross promises. The DEP promises. The Robin Hood Foundation promises. (What ever happened to the more-than-$30 million that the 121212 concert brought in?) Our boardwalk, we are told, should be rebuilt in two years. Our business district still has abandoned banks, empty stores, and the restaurants that were able to reopen raised prices exorbitantly. Most often, we go into Brooklyn or Manhattan for a restaurant meal.

The blocks that burnt down have started pouring foundation. Except for the business district block that burnt. That was leveled and fenced-in and has a For Sale on it too. It’s not very attractive. In more ways than one.

It’s the new normal.

We’re all a little jaded, skeptical, unsure of which decisions were good ones. The decision to stay in our house during the storm was such an astoundingly bad one. Who knew that if you survived the water, there would be fire to contend with? And fatalities from boardwalk debris.

We’re staying. For now. Our house didn’t burn and my family is ok. My two sisters-in-law both had to essentially rebuild their whole houses. They both live right on the water. My mother-in-law’s house has been left, abandoned, like many houses in her neighborhood. Some still have the signs in the windows that declared them unsafe to be occupied. When we decide how to reconstruct our basement and first floor, it will include an apartment for my mother-in-law, but it is difficult to gear up to major construction and rebuilding like that. It’s not a happy ooh-let’s-pick-out-cabinets-and-tiles kind of reconstruction. It’s burdened construction that carries heavy sadness and loss. More days than not, I think about running away to land-locked Scarsdale. Where they lost power for a day or two in October of 2012 and then went on their merry way.

Jaded, skeptical, and unsure, yes. But we are a neighborhood that saw the best in people last year. In tragedy, we got to know each other better and drained each other’s basements. We shared resources and were always aware of the people-power that came in during those first few months. I think at one point, I considered converting to Mormonism. There were many heroes of help. Alison Berna was one. Our UNIS friends came in to help dump and gut. The Berna kids sold lemonade to fundraise, and Alison’s campaign to help our local Volunteer Fire Department was extraordinary. One of the local teenaged girls, Ariel, set up a website called Survivor’s Silver Lining to match need to donations and has a campaign now to help kids replace the bicycles they lost. (http://www.rockawave.com/news/2013-02-22/Community/Rockaway_Teen_Finds_Silver_Lining_in_Sandy.html) It was amazing to watch the volunteers help and I will always be grateful. The ability of humans to repair damage physically and emotionally is astounding and limitless; I have seen it firsthand.

And then a year later, as if on cue, all of us Sandy-effected people watched Typhoon Haiyan rip up the land of the beautiful Philippines and take more than five thousand lives. Five thousand! Two million people are homeless. It spoke to me personally. It was more than empathy. It gave me perspective.

- Tommy Werther and Sue Steinberg

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