Saturday, December 8, 2012

Letter from America - Caribbean New Yorkers still affected by Sandy

A personal account By Vishnu Bisram
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Queen's NY
Trini, Guyanese and other New Yorkers are still feeling the after effects from the natural disaster that blasted the city. I drove around some areas severely affected by the storm and found people still struggling to cope from the disaster. It was very sad to see so many people still struggling to bring normalcy to their lives. 

Residents told me the inside of their homes on the first floor near the coast had about three feet of sand. I could not but be moved by their pains to take actions to help them beyond what I am already doing. 

Our people prepared refreshments and provided support for those who needed
it at various shelters. Indo-Caribbeans and Punjabis from Richmond Hill were among the earliest groups who rushed to provided hot meals at the shelters in York College, John Adams high school and the Rockaways.

While Superstorm Sandy is not in the news these days and as such may be out of peoples’ minds, its after-effects are still around and people are still trying to recover from its ferocious behavior. So many were affected by the superstorm with lives disrupted resulting in long lasting effects. 

Queens, where the majority of IndoCaribbeans are settled, was the hardest hit of the five boroughs. Recall that the storm led to power outages, downed trees, flooding, fuel shortage, destroyed homes, looting, and other criminal acts. Many Trinis, Guyanese and other Caribbean people suffered tremendous damages to their homes which were flooded out. 

People did not have heat or hot water and power. Guyanese Americans suffered a lot and continue to suffer especially in the Rockaways where many Trinis and Guyanese are settled and which I visited a few times to survey peoples’ needs and suggested assistance from charitable Guyanese and Trini organizations. 

The boardwalk used to stretch along the beach in the Rockaways inviting tourists to visit the area. Signs of the boardwalk now occupy the street and one can even see parts of the boardwalk literally on top of cars or garages or homes. Several homes are still without electricity some five weeks after the storm.

Restoration of electrical service demands cleaning all components of sea water, drying and testing the main power installation, outlets and internal lines (underground as well) to make sure it is safe to restore power.

Richmond Hill is pretty much back to normal as we approach the Christmas holidays with only a few home owners unable to reoccupy their homes from downed trees. Some victims are still sharing homes with relatives and some are at temporary housing or hotles paid for by FEMA. 

But when I visited the Rockaways, many Guyanese cannot use their basements and the first floor is still being rehabilitated. They are being put up at hotels paid for by FEMA. Some are sharing space with their relatives. I also came across Guyanese who told me they live in high rise apartments. I met them lining up for hot meals from the Red Cross mobile kitchen. 

Other charitable organizations also provided them meals as some said they still could not cook. Guyanese and Trinis have made contribution to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to assist victims.

Some organized drives to assist the victims and some (like Dr. Dhanpaul Narine and Mahadeo Persaud, teaching colleagues) volunteered manning shelters for a few days. I volunteered for three weeks at the York College Evacuation Center helping victims. 

In one case, I even assisted an evacuee from Zimbabwe moving his possessions in several car trips back to the Rockaways from Jamaica.
More needs to be done for the victims of Sandy although people have responded with so much compassion and tremendous generosity. 

On this note, I wish to applaud the Buvaneshwar Mandir (Pandit Jadubhans) and Shri Tri Murthi Mandir (Pandit Chunelall). Arya Samaj USA and Maha Sabha also pitched as did several other mandirs. They prepared hot meals and collected clothing, sanitary supplies, toiletries, etc and distributed to victims; few of the recipients were Indo-Caribbeans. 

I am so proud that several Trinis and Guyanese came forward to assist victims that they don’t know and I want to thank the many who phoned me inquiring how they could help the victims and asking me to pick up clothing for the victims.

The response was overwhelming. The shelter could not handle the supplies. I should also note that complete strangers brought food to the York College shelter in Jamaica. Small business owners from distant places in other parts of Queens brought food for the evacuees in Jamaica. Indo-Caribbeans came forward to help Afro Americans in Queens.

In talking to homeowners, what disappoints them as well as those of us who seek assistance to the victims especially in Queens is the city has been issuing tickets to people who have fallen trees on their homes. The city’s move comes across as heartless. Instead of the city clearing the trees as it belongs to them, the city is being bold in issuing summons to people to cut the trees. 

Homeowners said this is adding insult to injury. I am sure these summons will be thrown out of court when they come up for a hearing.

It is difficult to describe the experience right after Hurricane Sandy. It was a trying time and a lot of frustration not knowing if one will get food, water, heat, electricity, etc. in freezing temperatures. But victims have overcome many of the difficulties and challenges. They now look forward to rebuild. 

They are grateful for the support provided by all groups including from Indo-Caribbean charitable organizations. The Indo-Caribbean community spirt of sharing and giving was very much in evidence in the weeks after Sandy in so many parts of Queens attending to the needs of mostly non-Guyanese.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai