A year after Superstorm Sandy destroyed her hair salon and badly damaged her house in Far Rockaway, N.Y., Destiny is still “too stressed.”
I met Destiny – a single mother with a son in college – during a recent visit to Sandy-affected coastal areas of New York City and Long Island. She was on her way back to town from the beach, where she had gone to pray.
“When people see you on the street, they don’t know what you are going through inside,” she told me, tears welling in her eyes.
Destiny looked fine on the outside. But a few minutes of conversation revealed something of the struggle of the past year – the memory of seven feet of water invading her home, promises of help that never materialized, constant financial strain.
She was able to open her salon in a new location, but it’s smaller, meaning reduced income. Insurance is covering only some of the restoration to her house, which took in 7 feet of water. Kitchen repairs are underway only now. The bathroom sink and shower aren’t fixed yet so Destiny goes to her salon at 6 a.m. every day to brush her teeth and to wash.
Destiny’s story illustrates that Superstorm Sandy is not over. That is not surprising. Typically, the bigger the disaster, the longer the recovery. And Sandy wreaked severe damage on a vast area including densely populated urban centers. It will take some years of financial support and volunteer effort to restore all Sandy survivors to safe, secure homes.
Listening to Destiny, I was moved by how alone she felt in her struggle to recover. She didn’t think there was anyone to help her. In actually, there are many people eager to help her and her neighbors. The challenge is how to connect them.
That’s a challenge Church World Service works hard to meet by helping communities organize effective long-term recovery committees. They bring together partners with money, labor, materials and expertise to contribute to recovery.
Working closely with disaster case managers, they systematically ferret out and help meet unmet needs, especially among survivors having the hardest time recovering because of poverty, language, disability or other vulnerabilities.
Destiny’s tears a year after Superstorm Sandy struck didn’t surprise me. It is not unusual at this point following a disaster for survivors to think, “This will never end,” and to be asking themselves, “Why did this happen to me? Why can’t I get things back together more quickly?”
Accordingly, community long-term recovery committees need to provide emotional and spiritual support for people like Destiny – and those who work so hard to help them – to help them go through this long journey to recovery.
Long-term recovery groups are getting to work, and many are already hard at work, helping Sandy survivors complete their recovery. Yes, it takes time, and for many households and communities, life won’t get back to exactly the way it was, but I take hope from the energy and commitment of so many not to rest until their neighbors and communities can find a ‘new normal’ and feel whole again.
Barry Shade, CWS Associate Director for U.S. Disaster Response