As the region dries out from the storm, a closer picture has begun to emerge of the vast number of Caribbean nationals who suffered the wrath of Sandy’s passage.
Caribbean diplomats and diaspora leaders have been conducting their own damage assessments and offering assistance to hurricane-shocked victims in Caribbean affected communities such as Canarsie, Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens.
Members of the CARICOM Consular Corps did a walk through in Canarsie recently where they met nationals from their home countries and offered them information and support as they cope with the disaster that has upturned their lives.
Along on the tour were the Consuls General of Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda as well as representatives of the Jamaica Nurses Group of New York.
Jamaica’s Consul General,. Herman LaMont who holds the chairmanship of the Caribbean Consular Corps says they were also able to secure food donations from the three leading Caribbean companies in New York - namely Golden Krust, Caribbean Food Delights and Tower Isle Patties and were therefore able to offer hot meals to the residents.
One resident expressed how much of a relief it was to take a break from fast food. visits “We did door-to-door visits. The full gravity hit me in Canarsie when I saw what they went through,” Lamont said. “In one case, one lady told me how the sea came through the backdoor and the river through the front door, and then sewage was also coming up.
We met up on some shocking cases. Our presence there was critical,” he surmised. He added that they also met with FEMA representatives and gave the residents literature on mold to make them aware of the danger and the importance of getting rid of the wet items in their soaked homes.
Critically, the Consulates will be putting in place a process to facilitate citizens who will need to replace documents that they have lost. The Missions have already had enquiries from some nationals. “We recognize in the crisis period that documents are not the priority except for those persons who may have emergencies.
The plan is for the CARICOM Consulates to go into the areas where these persons live and bring the services to them. Some of them will not have the time to come to the Consulates so we will go to them,” Mr. LaMont outlined. Ironically, members of the Jamaican diaspora were engaged in planning a fundraising response to Sandy’s devastation in Eastern Jamaica when the hurricane moved north and slaughtered the waterfront communities of New York and New Jersey.
Now efforts will be focused on storm victims in the diaspora. The Consul General revealed that he in fact rushed back from Chicago hours before the storm hit where he had been attending the 25th anniversary of the group, Concerned Jamaicans in Chicago that was formed as a direct response to Hurricane Gilbert.
He notes that he has been impressed with the goodwill of the diaspora community and the dedication they have demonstrated in assisting the storm victims. Well known community activist Irwine Clare, Diaspora Board Member for the North East has been one of the on-the-ground figures marshaling and coordinating support for those affected while offering valid information to the diplomats as to the state of affairs in especially the Far Rockaways.
The Consulate he notes “should use their networks to inform their communities as to the challenges faced by the displaced folk and how organizations within the communities can participate.”
Mr. Clare says there are many people working beneath the radar, and stressed that it is important that Sandy victims in the Rockaways, already an economically challenged area, not feel alone and forgotten.
President of the Jamaica Nurses Group of New York, Claudette Powell who was on the Canarsie tour said the visit was an eye-opener. Ground floors and basements, the primary residents of a huge number of New Yorkers, were completely washed out and the contents of their homes were now left on the streets, destined for the garbage heap.
Caribbean nationals enjoying the pride of home ownership literally overnight found themselves homeless. Some were fighting a combination of despair and distress - and in all of this were some of the most vulnerable, the aged, the impaired and the sick.
Nurse Powell, who has been in the profession for more than thirty years, was able to see up close some of the challenges of the elderly and the physically disabled and help some of them to navigate the system, and get critical care and assistance from the social services.
Most troubling was the 80-year old Jamaican mother who was caring for her 54-year old twin daughters stricken with multiple sclerosis, one of whom was paralyzed from the waist down and who was trapped on the ground floor as the flood waters rushed in.
The mother related the harrowing story of lifting her daughter from the bed using a hoyer lift, a devise that is used to transfer paralyzed persons. “The mother used it to hoist her daughter in the air. The daughter was suspended in the air above the water.
When the water receded, the mother was able to lower her. The mother and the other twin escaped to another section of the house,” Nurse Powell related. The patient’s electric hospital bed, her motorized wheelchair and the entire first floor of the home were destroyed.
After assessing their situation, Nurse Powell was able to secure assistance for them as well as a replacement bed, wheelchair and medical attention for the mother who had developed a cough and flu-like symptoms.
The Nursing Group working with other volunteers has also been helping other Canarsie residents to deal with FEMA, offering a listening ear to the frustrated and giving care packages to those in need. Other Jamaicans, unsolicited, have been doing their parts.
One Jamaican woman got a friend to drive from Maine with a trailer of goods which were distributed in the community. Similar accounts were detailed by Consul General LaMont who mentioned the work of the Rev. Les Mullings of the Church of the Nazarene in Far Rockaway who had given over the church premises as a recovery and point centre for FEMA and associated services.
The church was also feeding thousands of displaced residents. Rev. Mullings, a Jamaican met with the Caribbean diplomats during their tour of the Rockaways and stressed the importance of social service intervention for the storm’s diaspora victims.
Medical practitioners say attention will also need to be paid to the mental health of the storm affected population who will be going through the various stages of grief. Sandy has among other things, taken an emotional and psychological toll on residents.