Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Day at Rockaway

Daily, I hear stories, thoughts and opinions that vary greatly and across the spectrum.  Some residents express that FEMA and the Red Cross are doing a fantastic job of responding and providing service and relief aid.  One man told me that within 48 hours of the hurricane and after just one phone call, FEMA sent volunteers to help him begin the process of gutting his basement.  

Others have told me that they've left numerous phone messages with the FEMA office, but have never received a call back.  Some of them have walked blocks and miles even, to the FEMA stations set up in the area, only to be told that the person they need to talk to is not on site at the moment, where they have again left a message and again not received a call back.

I witnessed FEMA training a group of 20 individuals to assist with clean up efforts.  I also saw the Red Cross driving up and down the streets, offering a hot meal of hamburgers, soup, potato chips, soda and coffee.  But this is just my personal experience, me, on the outside of this disaster, spending a few hours each day in the neighborhoods.  I'm not living this disaster 24 hours a day.

There are sections of the community where thousands of articles of clothing and shoes lie scattered across an area the size of a school gymnasium and signs noting that volunteers are not needed at an area and that clothing is no longer required.  Is this because of the great job that FEMA is doing?  Is this because of the great job that the Red Cross is doing?  Or the United Way?  Is this because of the incredibly outpouring of support of individuals and organizations across New York City and from other states?  I don't, can't of course, know the answer.

The gas shortage continues to be a issue for everyone.  Fuel is required to utilize the generators needed for heating, for light, for running the water pumps, and for transportation to jobs and for supplies, groceries.             I've witnessed grown men punching one another in the face over taking more than the allotted 10 gallons of gas.  And people sitting in line in their cars for over five hours, waiting for their turn at receiving their 10 gallons. 

An issue that I'm not hearing about from others, but which I'm experiencing first hand, is the shortage of mta buses to and from Far Rockaway.  Residents stand on the sidewalks, in the cold, for nearly an hour at times, waiting for a bus, to go home, to go to work, to pick up their kids, to get groceries...  Buses drive right past them because they are full, or because they are Not in Service or because they are being used to transport the police, medics and firefighters.

I have asked several bus drivers why some buses are not in service.  Each of the drivers evades the question and tomorrow I am going to call mta myself and ask this question.  I cannot imagine a reason that makes it okay for an empty bus to make the trip to or from Rockaway, while residents, VICTIMS of the hurricane, are forced to stand out in the cold! 

When the bus I'm riding on, the bus that I waited 45 minutes, in 38 degrees for, drives by a large group of people standing on the side of the road, it hurts.  They wave at the bus to stop and when it doesn't, the look of surprise and shock and disappointment on their faces is heartbreaking.  Some are mothers with small children, a few are elderly, many are carrying heavy bundles of their relief aid supplies of food and clothing.  Tonight, a few of us tried to get off the bus to allow the mothers on with their kids, but the driver wouldn't stop, wouldn't acknowledge our pleas.  He didn't later acknowledge the cry from an elderly man to let him off the bus where there was no stop.  And so, this man was forced to pee himself.
There is no excuse for the humiliation I see happening.  And at the same time, there is no end to the humble acts of service I am witnessing as well.  This is what it is life for me to be here right now, a swing of highs and lows

There are extremely high moments when I am able to help someone, when I see others giving of themselves, when I hear that someone will be able to keep their house, their car, their job.  And there are extremely low moments when I can't help someone the way they need to be helped, when I see others acting selfishly and without consideration, when I hear that another body has been found, or that someone's house has been condemned and will have to be torn down, or that a boss will not be able to recover his business and so he has to lay off all of his employees.  

On and on and on it goes, this teeter totter of circumstances that in turn takes my emotions on a roller coaster ride.  How must it feel to live here, to be the person sleeping in the cold, waiting for the hot food truck to come by in the morning, waiting for the delivery of drinking water, walking blocks to the shelter to find warm clothes, walking miles to the police station to charge your phone so you can let others know you're okay, waiting to hear if your home will pass inspection, waiting to hear if your neighbor's husband will survive...

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