I returned from a mission trip to Island Park in NY yesterday. Island Park is located on the south side of Nassau county. It is surrounded by inlets and bays and the island of Long Beach shields it from the worst that the Atlantic has to offer. A causeway from the town of Oceanside breaks Island Park’s geographic isolation from the rest of Long Island. The community grew up initially as a vacation stop for New Yorkers coming east to escape the heat of the summer. Eventually it became a town in Nassau whose residents worked in NYC and elsewhere on Long Island.
My eldest son and I went there with some 15 to 20 other Virginians through an organization called Samaritan’s Purse. A local church called the “Full Gospel Church of Island Park“, FGCIP, partnered with Samaritan’s Purse in order to provide a base of operations in the middle of the community. Volunteers from out of state sleep at FGCIP while working on the homes that were destroyed in the flood. Samaritan’s Purse coordinates the volunteers, finding and assessing needs, providing tools, safety guidelines, air-masks, Tyvek Suits (when needed), food and showers.Every House saw 4 to 8 feet of sea water on the first floor. Many homes where originally built as beach bungalows. These one story homes are by and large destined to be condemned. Many of the people who own these homes are elderly, sick and have left for Florida. Many will never return. The home we went to is a two story affair. The elderly Italian couple who lived there I will call Tony and Angela. They are now living on the second floor of their home. Their roots run deep in this community. Their daughter who had lived but two blocks over, saw her home condemned, is now moving elsewhere on Long Island.
Angela was born in this house in 1950, her grandfather bought it in 1935, it was built in 1927. She is, to say the very least, devastated. For her the suffering is not only due to the damage to her home and her possessions but due to the loss of her community. Some people have died, many more people have moved away. She knew many of the people in the town, she can see just how many of the homes are empty. Angela also mourns the empty pews at her church, Sacred Heart, the world she grew up in is gone.
Those of us from Northern VA showed up and worked for 2 days. The first day for Angela was the toughest. She is looking at a pack of goons with crowbars and hammers, who are about to ‘work’ on her house. She was an inch from total meltdown. Vicky, a wisp of a girl of Italian descent from in Purceville, walked up to Angela, took her hand and started to console her. They talked, and talked, and talked and Angela’s shoulders relaxed, and her eyes dried as Vicky poured herself out, comforting Angela. We all eventually spent time with Angela and Tony. They are truly amazing people. Tony bought us all pizza from Gigantes Pizzeria in Oceanside for lunch, without being asked. Tony and Angela are over a financial barrel, and they are buying us food?In the meantime we got to work, at Tony’s direction, ripping down and removing the remaining sheet rock, plywood flooring, baseboards, cabinets, and all manner of debris — rotting furniture and other evidence of three lifetimes spend in this home. The mold and dirt were unbelievable. We were finding standing water under the cabinets, mold in the insulation. Water was still under layers of plywood flooring, in papers, furniture, just about everywhere. Much of the wood was rotting. The loss to Angela and Tony is incalculable. It is not just a dollars and cents issue, memories and relationships have been destroyed. Repeat this loss several thousand times and the story of Island Park becomes clearer. Repeat Island Park’s story a couple of hundred times, and the NY-NJ experience with Sandy begins to take shape. The flooding was bad enough that every structure in Island Park will need its first floor electrical replaced. This rough electrical work was done by a contractor prior to our arrival. We needed to make the space ready for the new flooring, walls and outlets. When we got there, front curb of the home was empty. When we left there was a pile of debris 6′ high from their driveway entrance to the neighbors driveway, some 40′+ of frontage.
Every home in Island Park will be subjected to this treatment eventually. Many of the owners will be returning in March to begin the process of restoration. More help will be required then. The problem is overwhelming. FEMA and the Insurance companies are moving slowly. Why? Because the problem is too big for them.People and organizations like Samaritan’s Purse are filling in the gaps and this is not small potatoes. Samaritan’s Purse has performed over 300 such mud-outs, or gutting’s of homes in Island Park. They still have over 150 homes on back order, more are likely to come.
Some 2500 volunteers have shown up thus far, and stayed at FGCIP. It is a testament to the people of this country that the pipeline of volunteers has been full all along. Over 100 people were staying at the FGCIP from all over the country each day last week; from Maine to Hawaii, and from Texas to Michigan. On Saturday, over 100 people from Albany arrived on buses to work for a day, and a similar number of people from the NY area showed up to help as well for a grand total of 300 volunteers in Island Park alone.
Samaritan’s Purse is hoping to switch operations from just doing mud-outs to demolition of condemned structures and the rebuilding and restoration of the homes that can be salvaged. They do this work free of charge, at no expense to the home owner. They did this sort of work after Katrina in LA, MS, and elsewhere in the country. Many who lost their homes due to tornadoes have seen Samaritan’s Purse rebuild their homes for free. They have an excellent track record.
The local political establishment is making this switch very difficult. In order to be allowed to perform rebuilds or complete tear downs of the structure, Samaritan’s Purse is being forced to jump threw some narrow hoops. In short, the local politicians are treating this organization as if they were criminals. They are demanding the the leaders of this volunteer organization come in for finger printing and post bond as a security. Security for work they would do for free? This is the kind of ‘thinking’ that hurts only those who need the most help. This is insult on top of injury to those who have already suffered.