I am finding it hard to pen the thoughts and emotions I am feeling after my weekend in New York. A weekend filled with sorrow yet hope, anger, tears and laughter, prayer, fellowship, love, teamwork and determination.
A weekend where men and women came together for a common cause – to help those in need. Those that have had their lives and homes turned upside down over night.
People in need. Proud people. People full of determination and hope.
I spent the weekend In Long Island, New York alongside a wonderful group of Firefighters from Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina and New York. All brought together by the FF Steven Coakley Foundation and the Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers Run Charlotte. Brought together to help citizens affected by Hurricane Sandy. The FF Steven Coakley Foundation is in memory of New York Firefighter Steven Coakley Engine 217 who lost his life during the tragic events on September 11, 2001. They provide scholarships and donate fire equipment and funds to local emergency services for increased safety. The emotions of the weekend started there as I stayed in his home. You couldn’t help but feel his presence. It was pretty amazing.
The firefighters volunteering with me gave of their time and energy to provide free labor to homeowners needing demolition work done. They truly put their hearts and souls into this task. They also arrived with a tonne of donations from gift cards to cleaning supplies and toys. All graciously donated by Churches, Schools, Individuals and Businesses.
The group, given the name Task Force 17 were given work orders each day by Disaster Relief Management specialists. The one being Operation Breezy Gut and Pump and the second coined Camp Bulldog.
We would take our orders split into teams and venture out to the jobs at hand. The jobs consisted of the removal of water damaged drywall and floors. Another task was to remove hundreds of pounds of sand that made its way into homes during the storm. Bucket by bucket it was removed.
The teams worked tirelessly without complaint each day. From house to house to house. Once the work order is completed you pack up and move to the next. They worked from early in the morning until the sun started to go down. Most homes had minimal power.
During Saturday morning I spent some time by myself wandering through the completely devastated burn zone in Breezy Point, in New York City’s Queens borough. Over 100 homes were wiped out due to a massive blaze the night of the Hurricane. Flooded streets prevented firefighters from getting the trucks and necessary equipment into the area to fight the fire and high winds just fueled it, causing it to spread across the neighborhood.
Ive never been to a war zone but that’s all I could think of as I gazed upon the damage. Foundation after foundation. That’s all that remained of the homes. Scattered debri and cherished memories strewn throughout.
I was just numb. It seemed too much to fully grasp. Surreal. A very large area of this beach front community was wiped out. All that remains are concrete foundation walls and the odd chimney stack. Despite all this devastation though there were numerous symbols of Hope and a determination to rebuild. I spoke to a homeowner and as sad as she was she told me they weren’t through there. They will survive… Hope… Amazing.
My sadness lingers on for these people but knowing there are people out there like the men and women on Task Force 17 brings a felling of happiness and a renewed passion for human kindness.
Those affected by the storm will rebuild and they will become stronger and closer in the process.
I want to thank the people responsible for bringing this effort to my attention and starting the ball rolling to get me down there and to the FF Steven Coakley Foundation and the Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers Run Charlotte for the work you are doing to help those that need it.