By: Mary Targia Almonte
We all heard the warnings from the weatherman and our local officials loud and clear. However, we just assumed that, like most recent instances (namely Irene), they were crying wolf and we were all getting a day off from school and work for no good reason. Sure, they shut down the entire public transportation system, but we were convinced that the storm would take an unexpected turn and pass over us like always. My Facebook news feed was filled with sarcastic photos taken on the beach in the calm before the storm, denoting that it was just another day. The kids had their coloring books and puzzles ready to stave off the boredom of a day off all lined up, and Mami and Papi had their wine chilling in preparation for the adult “hurricane party” that was to ensue later on.
Then the sky turned a strange hue of deep purple, and something in our guts told us that the weatherman might have been right this time. Shortly thereafter, the 90 mph howling winds swayed our home and we found ourselves shivering in the dark. Needless to say, our festivities had commenced. Large trees that had been around for decades were toppling cars and homes up and down our block. Power lines were collapsing into the river that was once the street and sidewalk…and we don’t even live in a Zone A (mandatory evacuation – near water) area. All that my mind could turn to was how those who lived in Zone A, as my 90 year old grandmother and so many friends and relatives did, were faring.
Fortunately, my grandmother evacuated to my aunt’s in New Jersey the day before. Although their area was badly battered, the extent of their damage was a power loss that still exists at the time of this publishing, almost a week later. My grandmother returned to sand and ocean water in her first floor and lost some heirlooms. However, by the time that Sandy had done its damage and moved on, so many of my grandmother’s neighbors were not so lucky. Homes were destroyed, a pile of rubble left where they used to stand, leaving families homeless and with nothing but the clothes on their backs. In this neighborhood filled with elderly people who spent 80+ years calling this area home, many refused to evacuate and were trapped and drowned in the homes that symbolized their lives(ever saw that Disney/Pixar movie “Up”?). So many of these stories tug at the heartstrings – with an elderly woman found drowned sitting in her chair with her boots on as she was awaiting her daughter to come pick her up, a father and son found in a final embrace after drowning in their basement, a father and daughter who didn’t survive their home’s collapse – however I think the most heart-wrenching tragedy in the area for us mothers is the story of Glenda Moore, whose two toddlers, Brandon and Connor, did not survive after being pulled from her grip by the enormous tidal surge that assaulted the area. My heart bleeds for Glenda, and all of those impacted…and I’ve been hugging my kids and loved ones a little tighter these days.
It has become a challenge to remain positive myself, let alone to keep the spirits of my kids up with all of the sadness and despair surrounding us. For us Staten Islanders, the entire Island is like our big backyard. Although we are a part of a major city as New York is, the Island has a small-town feel, with such little degrees of separation between us inhabitants. It hurts like hell to see our Island destroyed; places where we have made so many memories with our families and loved ones decimated (i.e. my wedding venue is in ruins). Even more so, it hurts to see our fellow neighbors in pain and in need. However, although some feel that the government may be treating us as the “forgotten borough” that we have become known as even before this event, us Islanders have come out in droves to support our neighbors, helping clean up damage, rebuild, and donating everything from soup to nuts. Sure, gas lines are long, commutes are unbearable, and most of us have been without power all week – but us Islanders are more concerned about the condition of our neighbors. Nothing has been more heartwarming than witnessing and being a part of the movement of compassion and humility that has swept the Island in Sandy’s aftermath, and I don’t think that there is any better lesson for our children to learn than this.
Mary Targia Almonte has never been prouder to be a native Staten Islander, where she is raising her two children and building their life with her husband. She can be followed on Twitter @maryTheYUMama. Those wishing to contribute to those affected by Sandy are encouraged to do so at http://www.tunneltotowers.org/.