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Locals Walk the Trenches After Sandy

Catherine O’Leary is a Mamaroneck resident and a Registered Nurse who is volunteering to help storm victims in Coney Island. Photos by Matt Richter.

Friends, this is how I spent my day yesterday. I am a nurse, not a journalist so please excuse my inability to clearly articulate the overwhelming tragedy I witnessed first hand.

Let me explain that I have been to the 9th ward post Katrina and I’ve set up a medical core in war torn Nicaragua. So I am no stranger to disasters.

What I was not prepared for was the lack of an official coordinated effort here in the poor neighborhoods of NY. While many of us have complained about a lack of power in our suburban communities, we had friends and neighbors who opened doors with hot meals, abundant wine and offers of warm guest rooms.

I went to a central hub in Brooklyn to be “deployed” on a medical team. I was greeted with near-Rock star status as my credentials were discovered. I was asked to get down to a donation site in Coney Island where I would be deployed. When I arrived in Coney Island, I was shocked to find that *I* was the medical relief team – along with a few other volunteer doctors and nurses. There was no intake area. There were no Red Cross tents or mobile units. There were no open pharmacies or any meaningful supplies except band aids and random bottles of Tylenol and children’s Motrin (clearly from peoples medicine cabinets). We were handed scraps of paper with hand written notes from generous volunteer canvas workers who had identified residents that required medical assistance.

We loaded up the big SUV we had with food, water and the few medical supplies at hand. I deployed with 2 young nurses, a photographer and an amazing “driver” and we began the long arduous task of going door to door to see who needed assistance.

Let me explain, this was not your typical day of providing home health aid. The project buildings are still without electricity! The hallways are completely dark and there is stagnant sea water still in the buildings. It is COLD! The elevators don’t work and you must climb cold, dark stairwells with only a small flashlight. The smell of gas is overpowering as remaining residents use stove top flames to try to get warm. The wonderful people I met had simple requests for hot food and more water. They asked over and over “when would help be coming, why had they been forgotten”. I monitored blood pressures and assessed blood sugars – but felt helpless when I couldn’t offer refills of medications or insulin. Most of residents were elderly or disabled – some immobile or wheelchair bound. There were infant babies wrapped in blankets with coughs and no way to get warm. I spent most of the day lugging buckets and cases of water up numerous dark stairwells. I gave hugs and listened to stories from lonely, disenfranchised individuals who just want to be heard.

I write this not to place blame but merely to bear witness to those we seem to have forgotten – AGAIN! What these residents need URGENTLY is electricity! I know the challenges are numerous and complicated, but where are the massive generators which might power a building? Why do we allow this to happen to our fellow man?? I will return again tomorrow and probably the day after that……

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