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Staten Island Ignored Until Friday

November 3, 2012

A large container from a nearby hall washed up on the lawn of a woman a short distance from Miller Field. Water rose 2 metres, destroyed her car and damaged her home.

When residents of Staten Island left their homes to survey the damage after hurricane Sandy, they found they were mostly on their own. Numerous people all across the island complained to journalists about a lack of power, Con Ed repair crews, gasoline, government help and a list of other items.
It was apparent, said many residents, that Staten Island was “forgotten” or “ignored,” which they said was typical of the way NYC treated them. In the New Dorp section lines for petrol stretched from Hylan Boulevard and New Dorp Lane all along Miller Field, with drivers waiting over two hours. Most standing in line seemed in good cheer, though those in vehicles were more likely to be upset. And they had good reason to be. On Friday afternoon, several days after the storm, only a handful of gas stations were open on the island, yet thousands of people were in desperate need to find petrol for a generator – tens of thousands are still without power – or for their cars. With the SI Ferry only being restored as of Friday afternoon, the only way for residents to get to work in other boroughs was to drive; with little or no petrol in other boroughs or NJ, people became very concerned and were willing to stand in the cold wind for as long as it took.

Others were in even worse shape. For those residents just to the side of Miller Field on streets like Weed Avenue, they have been spending most of their time cleaning out what remains of their homes. On street after street in front of house after house residents deposited the former contents of their homes. Couches, sofas, refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, chairs, records, military uniforms – anything and everything one could imagine was awaiting the sanitation. No worries. Since many of the streets remain flooded, it looks like they may have to wait even longer before their rubbish can be collected. And the homeowners are not happy about their situation. Some told stories of swimming in the flood waters of their basements, just able to get out in time before being swept away. They told stories of people they knew personally who did not make it.

A short distance away is Miller Field, where this afternoon the Red Cross, National Guard soldiers, officials from FEMA  are based. Volunteers from as far away as Florida, Indiana and Arkansas drove up to assist; many are sleeping in shelters or factories. They donated their time and energy to help total strangers, and spent the afternoon – along with other volunteers who have been on the scene longer, such as Wheaton Van Lines –  sorting through and trying to pass out clothing, food and other essentials. Just five minutes away on New Dorp Lane local residents complained about the Red Cross’s failure to assist people, seemingly unaware they were operating a stone’s throw away.

Journalists on the scene witnessed more volunteer and emergency workers than Staten Island residents at Miller Field this afternoon, all of which makes one ask what the purpose of the press conference that Janet Napolitano attended was all about.  After all, residents we spoke were eager to have the media cover the problems and show the extent of the damage. Of all the American networks, few bothered to pay any attention to Staten Island until the Guardian of London and even Al Jazeera made them look like they were not doing their jobs. That a TV network based in Qatar can do better coverage than TV stations with permanent offices 12 miles away in Manhattan is just one of many reasons why residents felt they were completely ignored by their own people. Add to this the difficulties: not only are a good portion of the residents without power, some roads are blocked, some streets are flooded, families go without basics; there are those with no petrol for generators or cars, and with no train service 42nd street in Manhattan or connections to Manhattan from downtown Brooklyn, tens of thousands simply have no way of getting to work.
To be sure it is not as bad as Haiti, the Caribbean nation which has lost 51 people in Hurricane Sandy. However, Staten Island has lost 20 people to date, making it the area with the highest casualties in the United States. Having a press conference, taking a few photos and handing out food to a few people when the majority do not even know where to go for relief makes this look like nothing more than a media staged event – at least this is what some local residents said. Staten Islanders did not appear to be fooled, though they were grateful for the sincere efforts by the volunteers and workers. What they were asking was, “Where were they on Tuesday when we needed help?” and “Why does the mayor of NY want to have a marathon in the middle of this disaster?” Needless to say, a lot of people remain in need of real help.
Civis Journal


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