It’s cold and wet and hectic here in the Rockaway penninsula of Queens, New York City. Disaster relief efforts from hurricane Sandy are being interrupted by a Nor’easter storm that is now rolling in. As I type, the rain is transitioning to snow and word has it that the National Guard and the Red Cross are pulling out.
While much of the country is focused on the outcome of the election, residents of Rockaway NY are buttoning up their coats, grabbing provisions and either buckling down or evacuating. Again.
That is, the folks who are aware that this storm is coming in. Not everybody is aware that an evacuation order is in place, and not everybody is willing or able to leave. Stranded residents are a major concern here right now. When Sandy trashed the area last week, some nursing homes along the beach were ordered not to evacuate, something fellow residents are feeling sore about as they look out for one another.
Enduring Sandy: A United Community Faces Challenges Head On
Despite miserable weather in the disaster zone and an ongoing lack of basic conveniences, I have seen incredible resilience from residents and relief volunteers in the Rockaways. There is little sense of victimization as people focus their efforts on making sure some basic necessities are available, and that more needs are continually being addressed.
With the Rolling Sunlight providing electricity to the YANA (You Are Not Alone) community relief center on B113th Street, we’ve helped distribute donated food, establish temporary sleeping space in abandoned buildings, and lend a hand to people emptying their homes. We are now helping volunteers set up the first stable medical clinic in the area, formerly a local shop that was flooded out and is now up for sale. Access to dwindling prescription medication has become a concern for many residents, particularly disabled or elderly folks who are stranded. Check out the new clinic in this video:
“HOT SOUP! WE HAVE HOT SOUP RIGHT HERE!”
The contrast between the collected attitudes of residents and the destruction around us is profound. Flaring tempers are disarmed with hot soup and reassurances from strangers in solidarity. People are eager to chat and share stories of their experiences over the last week. A firefighter breaking for food last night told us about a man who was weathering the storm and watched as an empty boat made its way down the flooded streets toward his house. He jumped right in and drove the boat out of the path of his home….in the middle of a historic freak storm.
It’s hard to feel like you can possibly do enough to help when the electrical grid is still down, the streets are covered in sand and debris, entire blocks of buildings are collapsed and abandoned cars are scattered throughout the area. Yet every effort is appreciated by the volunteers and residents here, who are exercising the type of patience and selflessness you only see in extraordinary circumstances.
And have no doubt, Superstorm Sandy was an extraordinary event.
We must not forget that until Sandy wrought havoc on the shores of the East Coast, we had one presidential candidate keeping tight-lipped on climate change and another presidential candidate proudly mocking the scientific fact of sea level rise (which he now denies–VIDEO). While New York City Mayor Bloomberg has endorsed President Obama’s re-election with strong emphasis on climate change, the President has fallen well short of his promises to stop delaying solutions to global warming. And as reality sets in, the science is only getting more concerning.
Scientists have been warning us for decades that continued burning of coal, oil and gas will crank up the intensity of freak weather incidents like hurricane Sandy. The link between human-produced greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change has been solidified for over fifteen years even by more conservative scientific institutions.
How many more unnaturally strong hurricanes will we have to survive before our politicians heed the cries of those affected? How many more record droughts, or record heat waves? How many more floods and extreme storms? What more evidence do we need when governments around the world estimate climate change is already contributing to 400,000 deaths and $1.2 trillion in economic damage each year?
Like the residents of Rockaway, there are some things we need to take into our own hands, such as preparing for and dealing with extreme weather events. But with climate scientists calling these unprecedented disasters the “new normal,” its time for people to turn their backs on the old normal–corrupt politicians and do-nothing TV pundits with hidden connections to fossil fuel interests. We must clearly and powerfully demand that global warming stop being used as a politically divisive tool and start being recognized as the long term crisis that it is.
…my fingers are getting too cold to continue typing and I need some of that hot soup. I’ll leave you with some pictures I took yesterday: