On Monday, October 29th, 2012, Superstorm Sandy struck, killing over 121 people and causing over $50 billion in damages to homes, property and the economy.
Responding to one of the most destructive natural disasters in U.S. history, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued warnings and said, “This was a devastating storm. Maybe the worst that we have ever experienced.” In addition to the loss of life, the mayor faced electric outages across the city and transportation challenges, allowing taxis to pick up multiple customers until the subway system was repaired.
During the last weeks of a highly contested presidential campaign, the democratic President Barack Obama, in an unprecedented action, came together with Republican Governor Chris Christie and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to assess the damage. During that news conference President Obama said, “This is a federal, state and local effort.”
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to travel with the Governor of New York when he assessed the damage and helped relieve the suffering of victims. It was one of the most moving days of my life, a day in which I witnessed not only the horrific impact of the storm but also the overwhelming resilience of the survivors. Days before Thanksgiving, we gave out turkeys to families whose houses were in high-damage zones. Our first stop was at Five Towns Community Center, where we joined army personnel delivering boxes of Thanksgiving dinners. The people we met there seemed ecstatic to meet the Governor.
We then went to Breezy Point, one of the hardest hit areas in New York, where homes were ripped from their foundations. We stopped at a lunch for the local firefighters who had been heroic in their efforts to help those in danger. The people we applauded looked grateful but incredibly exhausted.
We went to Far Rockaway to visit apartments in an impoverished neighborhood that was devastated by flooding. In one apartment we visited, people had bags of clothes sitting in their living room. The stench of mildew was unbearable, and they were advised to throw out their belongings. They expressed despair, saying that they could not afford to lose so much.
Again, we met army personnel and helped distribute turkeys. In this neighborhood, people lined the street to pick up their food.
Three years ago, I travelled through Alabama to assess damage in the wake of the BP Oil Spill. One woman I met quoted the President, “Obama said the people of the Gulf Coast are resilient. We are resilient.” she continued, “We bounce back. We always bounce back. Bouncing hurts.”
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, we must honor this resilience, not only by recognizing it, but by assuring that this time, with the help of others, bouncing back does not have to hurt so much.