Hurricane Sandy, the unprecedented superstorm that ravaged the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States, left large swaths of New York City destroyed and ultimately killed 109 people in the US alone. In addition to experiencing trauma and shock, many resident now express frustration with lagging federal aid and assistance from other aid agencies like the Red Cross.
Vincent Ignizio, a New York City Councilman representing Staten Island’s 51st District, blames the gas shortage for hurting the recovery effort. Five-hour-long waits for gas have resulted in citizens’ being highly frugal with their commutes, and may be hindering aid, according to Ignizio.
“People who want to volunteer…are stymied from doing so,” he said.
And while the Defense Department recently dispatched 24 million gallons of fuel to the region, many citizens haven’t seen the military, or the Red Cross, since the storm hit. While FEMA workers were spotted recently in Staten Island, other citizens have received help from an entirely separate source: Occupy Wall Street.
Though numerous obituaries have been written about Occupy, the movement experienced a spike in activity in Sandy’s wake. Occupy Sandy, as the effort has been branded, arose quickly in the aftermath of the storm, setting up local community hubs to dispense water, food and aid, and form groups to help communities pump water from their houses and clean up the vast quantities of rubble left in Sandy’s wake. Distribution centers and volunteer hubs are now located in Sunset Park, Astoria, Brighton Beach, DUMBO, East Village, Lower East Side, Jersey City, Red Hook, Rockaway, and Staten Island. (photo of volunteer hub by Sarah Jaffe)
While federal mobilization efforts can often take weeks—sometimes months—to reach citizens, Occupy was one of the only local groups capable of quickly mobilizing to help victims. Organizing volunteers and supplies is no small task, but Occupy Sandy has been able to generate a large amount of aid. On Sunday, Michael Premo, one of the volunteers, estimated the mobilization effort included 2,500 volunteers, 15,000 meals and 120 carloads of supplies sent to recovery sites.
Understandably, residents were extremely grateful to receive any help they could get, but storm-ravaged communities weren’t the only recipients glad to see the sometimes-villainized occupiers. In a truly bizarre moment (especially to observers of the NYPD’s violent suppression of Occupy during its time at Zuccotti), FEMA and NYPD officers joined in chanting “We are unstoppable, another world is possible” with Occupy Sandy volunteers helping at Far Rockaway.
Lopi LaRoe, an Occupy Sandy volunteer helping with the recovery efforts in Far Rockaway and Staten Island, described the scene in the aftermath of the storm as being one of total devastation.
“It was decimated and really intense to see,” said LaRoe. “There’s literally a huge swath of area that’s burnt and destroyed.”