It is apparently much easier to gauge a disaster in the number of cars lost then the quotient of human suffering. So yes, people have not been at home in their own kitchens or slept in their own beds for over two weeks now. They gather in places like Chabad of the 5 Towns or the Young Israel of Long Beach to have something to eat or to grab a hot cup of coffee. Something as simple as charging a cell phone or a laptop computer has become a special occasion. It can be a satisfying discovery of sorts when you find a location that is accommodating along these lines.
So here it is—amongst other things—250,000 cars have been lost in the deluge now known as Super Storm Sandy. Cars filled with salt water from the sea had their electronic gadgetry destroyed. They were rendered irreparable or unusable. The interesting thing about this number is that it is the same estimate assigned to the number of vehicles lost or washed away during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2006.
Last week I walked down Arbuckle, Barnard and Church Streets in Woodmere with Nassau County Legislator Howard Kopel, his assistant, Avi Fertig and Moshe Ratner, a local resident, a member of Hatzoloh and one of the proprietors of Gourmet Glatt in Cedarhurst. Our first stop though was Rabbi Blinder’s shul on Peninsula Boulevard which was completely destroyed by the flooding instigated by Sandy.
Inside it was cold and workers were already hammering away at rebuilding the the popular shul. The large safe leaned up against the wall of the shul that faces Jerusalem was empty. A lot of shuls now have safes like these to prevent the burglary of very precious and valuable Torah Scrolls. The impossible to crack impenetrable safes are useless when it comes up against simple every day H2O (water).
We visited a few homes, most with their entire basement and first floor contents piled high on their front lawns like the garbage they had just become courtesy of the storm. House after house without exception experienced severe flooding. We asked one young woman what it was like during the storm itself and she said that they all ran up to their bedrooms on a higher second floor and hoped and prayed that the water would not reach up there. “We cried a lot too,“ she added.
Very few parts of the 5 Towns remained unscathed. Some were hit worse than others. The weather improved over this last weekend and though many were still without electrical power the warmer conditions made it somewhat more bearable. Not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly more tolerable.
In Long Beach on Sunday morning every which way you turned your head you saw destruction and devastation. The usually clean almost white sand of the beach along with millions of gallons of cascading salt water seems to have swamped and infiltrated every possible nook on this part of Long Island. Its two weeks since Sandy and the community is still digging its way out of the disaster.
Rabbi Chaim Wakslak stands outside in front of the shul asking people who approach the synagogue what it is they need. If it’s a meal, it is inside. If the need someone to help clean out ruined belongings from a flooded home he has that too. He takes down the address and assigns volunteers as soon as they show up. For the half hour or so that I was there on Sunday morning there was a steady stream of people looking to help. Some came from the 5 Towns, a carload from Teaneck and still others from Westchester County.
Irwin Gershon of the Long Island UJA was on hand directing people as well. UJA has allocated $10 million to those impacted by the storm. He said the money is being funneled through shul Rabbi’s like Rabbi Wakslak. The Rabbi overhears our conversation and corrects us—it is not that the money will be given out to assist people with immediate needs, the money (about $50,000) has already been distributed.
As we stand outside watching the Rabbi interact with visitors and Mr. Gershon helping out in the effort as well I hear a man say to the Rabbi that he is here with his two sons and has two pumps and is ready to assist in pumping water out of a basement. The Rabbi quickly gives him an address where people require this precise type of assistance.
Throughout the course of the day a steady flow of volunteers ascended upon the shul looking for a way to be of assistance to people crawling out from the assault of the nearby sea. Whereas water was a serious issue for many nearby communities, here in Long Beach the one-twp punch consisted of water and sand that literally not only invaded but took over homes. The force of the flowing water carrying the sand from the beach with it pushed bolted lock doors down as if they were toys off a store shelf. The home flooded with salt water but when the water eventually receded, the piles of sand remained.
Rivka Bohan, a long time Long Beach resident and member of the Young Israel takes us around the shul. The Young Israel building, barely a block from the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean was an oasis in the community, that is a base and hub of activity despite ts nearness to the sea that was miraculously not breached by the water.
More in this weeks 5TJT