Today marks the 14th day that I haven’t slept in my own bed; the 14th day that I’ve scrounged around in a duffel bag instead of in my closet when getting dressed each morning; the 14th day that my refrigerator has sat empty; the 14th day that I’ve been forced to rely on friends and loved ones for shelter, support and a wireless Internet connection.
Today marks the 14th day of my displacement due to Superstorm Sandy.
A massive inconvenience, yes, but I’m lucky compared to hundreds upon hundreds of my fellow New Yorkers. My apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is very much still standing. Technically uninhabitable due to a lack of electricity and heat and a noxious oil-based stench coming from the once stormwater-flooded basement that my landlord has apparently turned a blind eye toward … but still standing. I’m on the fourth floor. I didn’t lose a thing. Some of my neighbors lost everything.
Because my apartment building is still standing and accessible, I’ve been returning to it almost daily since evacuating.
When I do return, I don’t stay for more than an hour or so. I check the mail and grab clothes and other supplies that I might need and shove them into one of the several bags that I’ve been living out of for the last two weeks. Sometimes, I just sit there on my sofa in my cold, dark living room and stare at the television screen. Other times, I stare out the window at the harbor and the Statue of Liberty (these kind of spectacular waterfront views are what got me in this mess in the first place). At the beginning of last week, I even cleaned the floors and the bathroom as if I were still living there as normal. Then the sun set began to set and I decided that scrubbing the toilet by flashlight just wasn’t in the cards.
My daily trips home have become a ritual not too dissimilar from sitting beside the hospital bed of a lover or loved one who has slipped into a coma. It’s an eerie feeling — to step inside of a living space that’s currently in a suspended state — but it also gives me comfort, a sense of peace. These visits remind me that, eventually, I do have somewhere to return home to, and, in turn, they dull the overwhelming sense of separation anxiety that I’ve been experiencing. Seeing and touching and being surrounded by my possessions is calming. Knowing that my bed, my bath towels, and my toaster oven will all be waiting for me when my home of the past six years wakes up from its deep slumber (provided that my landlord and Con Edison get it together some day soon) — this is what keeps me from cracking up completely.
Again, I consider myself fortunate and I'm grateful that I'm able to physically return home each day to check in. For those who may not be able to perform this ritual that's been so helpful to me, FEMA has teamed up with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to soft-launch an app called Check Your Home. Essentially, the app provides those who have been displaced by the storm with post-Sandy aerial imagery of their homes and neighborhoods. Although it may not provide anxious evacuees with the same level of comfort that actually setting foot inside their homes might provide, being able to check in from above does provide a certain peace of mind particularly to those who haven't been able to survey the damage to their homes.
Often following a disaster, the hardest hit areas are cordoned off due to safety or inaccessibility issues. Unfortunately, this leaves many survivors with unanswered questions as to the status of their community or homes. This web map was built to try and provide a simple, easy way for evacuees who cannot get back to their homes and neighborhood to see the impacts left by Sandy.
New aerial images from CAP are being added to FEMA’s Check Your Home app as they become available.
And if you haven’t yet donated to Sandy relief efforts, now’s a great time to do so as many impacted areas, my neighborhood included, are still in desperate need of help. Personally, I recommend contributing to Architecture for Humanity. In addition to a general rebuilding/restore campaign for all areas impacted by Sandy, the San Francisco-based nonprofit also has a Jersey Shore-centric fundraising initiative up and running as well. In terms of materials, City Harvest (food) and Team Happy Foundation (blankets) are two solid bets. The Red Hook Initiative is one grassroots group that’s been doing absolutely amazing work in my neighborhood and beyond.
If you're overwhelmed by the sizable number of niche charities involved with Sandy relief, you may feel the most comfortable donating to the American Red Cross. If you do decide to go that route, just remember that they want your money and/or blood and not your stuff. The Humane Society is, as always, an extremely worthwhile cause (on that note, you may also consider helping out Manhattan/Long Island-based pet welfare organization Bid-A-Wee).
Related story on MNN: Feeling grateful in the wake of Hurricane Sandy
Aerial imagery of Breezy Point, Queens: FEMA/Check Your Home