Hurricane Sandy devastates New York

Hurricane+Sandy+devastates+New+York

Hannah Fagen

Hannah Fagen, Editor-in-Chief

Dozens are dead; hundreds are homeless; thousands more are without heat or electricity.  School halted for a week, and Long Island is facing a long and difficult recovery after perhaps the worst natural disaster ever to strike the American Northeast.

Hurricane Sandy swept into Long Island on the evening of Oct. 29.  After originating as a tropical wave in the Caribbean earlier in the week, Sandy traveled upwards towards the Northeastern United States.  The storm, which was the largest Atlantic hurricane to date and the second costliest (only behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005), reached winds of 110 mph at its most powerful, and killed over 100 people.

Fallen trees caused most of the direct damage in the Port Washington area, crushing homes, cars, and power lines alike. In Munsey Park alone, 23 homes were condemned, and countless residents had to relocate after trees fell on their homes.

“A tree fell on my house during the storm,” said senior Kayla Conway.  “This happened during Irene too, and it was really scary.”

Efforts to rebuild began quickly, especially in light of the falling temperatures.

The worst damage, however, occurred as a result of flooding.  The small borough of Staten Island suffered a disproportionate 20 deaths, mostly as a result of uncontrollable flooding.

“Long Beach is devastated,” said science teacher Ms. Marla Ezratty, who lives in Long Beach.  “There are thousands of people that have nothing. We still have no power, no water, and we can’t flush our toilets.  Talking about living in primitive conditions, there’s no heat and the temperature is going down.  FEMA has been fantastic.”

“It’s just a lot of damage,” said Manhasset architect Patricia O’Neill.  “I’ve never had to deal with this.  The whole idea is just to try to expedite getting building permits and getting houses repaired, getting them safe so people can move in.”

Most homes on Long Island lost power at some point during the storm, with nearly one million Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) customers without power at its peak.

“We found that it has brought us back to basics,” said community member and volunteer Ms. Vivian Israel.  “When we don’t have our televisions and our movies and Internet anymore, we get together and play word games and we do everything by candlelight.  We were joking that it’s like we’ve become hunter-gatherers, and we plan from day to day what we’re going to do.  We’re trying to make the best of a difficult situation.”

On Oct. 30, the day after the storm, LIPA began working to restore power in local neighborhoods, bringing in more than 11,000 workers, some of whom the National Guard airlifted to Long Island from across the country.  According to CBS and other news sources, looters took advantage of the sheer numbers of LIPA repairmen and women in the area, and posed as LIPA workers, asking to be let into homes.

“It’s horrible that people would pose as people that are supposed to be helping us out,” said senior Emily Lipstein.  “You trust them to help you restore some sense of normalcy, but instead they cause more damage to people who’ve lost so much already.”

However, restoring power to all of its customers amidst such physical destruction made LIPA’s work slow, with more than 200,000 homes and businesses still without power a full week after the storm.

“While sitting in the dark without power, I think about how I want to be online right now,” said senior Jillian Knoll.  “But, then, I realize how fortunate I am not to have any damage to my house.”

Port Washington schools remained closed for the entire week of the storm, as did New York City public schools and most other districts in the area.  The district originally announced only that school would be closed on Oct. 29, and announced the further cancellations day-by-day as local conditions and power outages were assessed.

“The most important piece in the decision was whether the schools have power,” said Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney.  “There’s a state regulation that you cannot have people in school buildings if you cannot maintain 65 degrees.”

Still, some students appreciated the unplanned break from school.

“I thought not having school was great,” said junior Sarah Maley.  “It was unexpected so it was nice. We didn’t have to do homework, we could relax and enjoy ourselves.”

Port schools reopened one week from the storm, on Nov. 5, but several other local districts remained closed as a result of the major gas shortage that began shortly after the storm hit, and resulted in hours-long lines for gas, at times stretching from one town to another and requiring the monitoring of several police officers and/or members of the National Guard.

While the school district only annually allots four extra days beyond the state-mandated 180 school days for emergencies, Sandy kept students and staff home for five.   To make up for one of those days, the school district made the decision to cancel the Superintendent’s Conference Day scheduled for Election Day, and hold regular classes instead.

“As of right now, there are no plans in place,” said Principal Mr. Ira Pernick.  “We are going to follow the leadership provided by the governor and the Board of Regents. A lot of it will depend on the winter, and what sort of winter we have.”

The lost week also means that teachers, especially those teaching time-crunched AP courses, may have to make changes in their teaching plans to keep on schedule.

“I probably will not be able to have in-class review days prior to tests if I am to get through the AP and Regents curricula by the end of the year,” said math teacher Ms. Geralyn Ganzekaufer.

Although Schreiber remained closed on Oct. 29 and 30, community members opened it on Oct. 31 as a shelter for those without heat or a suitable place to stay, but quickly changed it to a makeshift community center when they realized that all displaced individuals were accounted for at other shelters.  The center, which was renamed the Port Washington Recovery Center, offered a warm place to spend time, recharge electronics, eat food donated by volunteers and local restaurants, and participate in recreational activities.

“There are emergency food services, a liaison center, we can send people in the right direction for different services, let them know how to get to a shelter where they can sleep, let them know where they can go to take showers, where they can get gasoline,” said Manorhaven teacher Ms. Stefanie Cohen, who volunteered at Schreiber during the storm.  “People are really happy to have coffee here.”

While dangerous conditions and school cancellations prevented Halloween’s usual celebration with in-school costumes, after-school trick-or-treating, and parties, locals still found ways to keep the day festive.

The makeshift hurricane shelter-turned community center held several Halloween-themed activities for Port Washington children, including showings of the films Monsters, Inc. and Harry Potter.  Parents of younger children in the Sousa area organized a “Trunk or Treat” event, during which the children trick-or-treated from one car trunk to another in the Sousa parking lot.  Local police departments had strongly discouraged actual trick-or-treating do to the risks for live wires and falling debris in local neighborhoods.

Students, including the Venture Crew 556, came to Schreiber to organize events, coordinate services, and volunteer to help those in need.

“I heard that they had limited staff, so Wednesday morning I thought I’d stop by and see how it was going,” said sophomore Naomi Boico.  “There was one family with a two year old, a five year old, a three year old, and a four month old, and they had no heat, no electricity, and they were scared for the baby’s well-being because they couldn’t find a hotel, and the mom was almost in tears.  It was great that they could come here and get some warmth, get some hot food, and the baby got better because it was sick.  It was crazy.”

Members of the custodial staff remained in the building throughout the week, working in alternating shifts, even during the peak of the storm on Monday night.  Before LIPA restored power to the school on Nov. 2, they set up and maintained generators for use by the community center.

“Anything.  Everything they need, we have to get,” said assistant head custodian Mr. Patrick Novotny.

On Nov. 3, the community center transitioned to the Landmark on Main Street, where it continued to provide services and activities such as movie nights, exercise classes, and crafts for children.

Community members received information about the storm and local recovery efforts at least once a day messages from the volunteer-run Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management (PWMOEM).

“The PWMOEM functioned as we expected it to,” said commissioner Mr. Peter Forman.  “It was the source for local information and a representative of the community with the county, the town, and others.  We gathered information from many different sources to distill it and make it relevant.”

For information during future emergencies and for any further information about Sandy, residents can sign up for alerts from the PWMOEM at northshorealert.org.

“Sandy brought terrible devastation to many people in our town,” said freshman Milan Sani.  “It caused great chaos but also brought us together as a community.”