A New Normal: Digging Out From the Destruction of Hurricane Sandy

by Patriarch Craig Bates

Devastated, devastating, and devastation are three very common words as the people of my congregation and the people of Long Island, New York City, and New Jersey are digging out from the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.

For very few, the Hurricane Sandy meant being confined to the house for a day. For some it meant loss of power that was turned back on rather quickly. For most, over 600,000 on Long Island there is still no power. There are millions without power around the Metropolitan area and many will not get power back for a week or more. And for a very large number of people it means total loss of home and cars.

Like most of you who can read this because you are either not from the New York area or you have power I am watching the news and seeing pictures of places like Breezy Point where over 100 homes were burned down in a fire. One of my parishioners lives on Breezy Point and though their home was not burned down it was so flooded that the town has condemned it and they are now homeless. This morning I watched a report on Staten Island and Lower Manhattan. So many homes on Staten Island are just a pile of sticks. Lower Manhattan was totally flooded. These pictures are representative of the entire tri-state area.

In my parish several areas were hit particularly hard – Freeport, East Rockaway, Oceanside, Baldwin Harbor (just a few blocks from where I live), and worse of all Long Beach. Roughly thirty-five of my families live in Long Beach and most of them are now without homes or they have homes that have such water damage they can not return until repairs are done. Today we will be trying to discover who has available rooms or apartments, or who knows of available rooms and apartments so that we can try to connect those in need with those who have resources.

There are two small businessmen who have lost their business. This not only affects them but their employees who are now without work.

No home of a staff member of the Cathedral was damaged. One staff member continued to have power, mine has been recently restored, and the other three are still without power but doing well – except being cold because it is winter weather here in New York. One of my worship leaders who is part time continued with electricity and my janitor and his family are still without power. People with power are opening their homes so that those without can get warm and take a shower or bath.

I do have one deacon whose apartment was totally flooded and they have to evacuate by the end of the week. So we will be meeting with him today to see how we can assist.

We are thankful that no one lost their lives or was seriously injured. In fact, when looking at the devastation, as it is being called, one gets a deeper appreciation of what is really important in life.

I had this naïve thought that when the power came back on things would get back to normal. But there is a new normal. Not only because Hurricane Sandy is the worse natural disaster to hit the New York area since 1938, but also because it followed the 2011 Hurricane Irene that flooded areas of New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, Upstate New York, and areas as far away as Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. For many on Long Island they were just recovering from Hurricane Irene. Now, not only will time be marked by this tremendous storm and stories be told of our survival, but we also have a new sense of what it means to be vulnerable to the effects of nature. Not unlike the new awareness of our vulnerability after the destruction at Ground Zero of September 11, 2001.

New Yorkers are a unique culture. We know that we are, in a sense, the center of the world. We are a metropolitan area with over 22.1 million people. One hundred and seventy six languages are spoken as a first language. Including Brooklyn and Queens, which are actually on Long Island, the population of Long Island is around 7.5 million. New York City is the home of the largest Jewish population outside of Israel. It is home to 20% of Indian Americans, and 15% of Korean Americans. It has the largest Asian population in the Western Hemisphere, the largest Italian American and African American population and the second largest Hispanic population in the United States. It has the largest Chinese population outside of China. And, it continues to be the leading metropolitan gateway for legal immigration into the United States.

It is perhaps one of the wealthiest cities in the world if not the wealthiest. It is the center of international banking and commerce. The gross metropolitan product is 1.28 trillion dollars a year. At the same time it is one of the highest cost of living areas in the world.

With all of this and more, New York is a culture unto itself. One of the unique cultural aspects is that with so many people and so little land we in New York become very attached to our neighborhoods and the people of our neighborhood. We don’t live so much in New York as we do in the Village, Chelsea, Upper Westside, Harlem or Flatbush. Those of us on Long Island refer to ourselves as Long Islanders to distinguish our difference from “the city” even though Nassau County where I live in twenty square miles has a population of 1.2 million. Even then we will among ourselves relate to our community and even to the neighborhood in our community.

The storm has intensified this sense of community. And, so there is a hopeful optimism in the midst of the horror that we will rebuild. One author suggested that the rebuilding of the Trade Center after 9/11 was evidence of New York arrogance and pride. Certainly the religious community had hoped that 9/11 would bring about a turning to God and it didn’t. Although there was a sense of presence of God experienced by most. So, it is true with Hurricane Sandy. There are a few, and very few, who are claiming that this is a “wake up call” or a “judgment” upon New York and our nation, but most recognize that the catastrophe is not from God but rather the result of the a fallen creation that longs for the return of the savior. Most recognize that God was certainly with us in the midst of the storm and we cried out to Him as our homes were being pounded. It is God, not the vast economy of New York, who is our provider and protector. The government will come in and help in the restoration process but it is the people themselves who will really rebuild.

We know we are not alone. We know that there are parts of the world where Hurricanes and Typhoons are part of the norm. We know that people in the Caribbean were hit before us and the poor were most harmed. We know that other parts of the world are far more vulnerable to natural disasters than are we and that because of poverty and lack of resources human life is lost in greater numbers.

On Monday I was confined to my house during the storm. We lost power in the evening. I was able to leave my home on Tuesday and I went to the Church to see if there was any damage and to pray. I found that the Church was unharmed and that there was power. We have been able to gather daily for the Eucharist – the Great Thanksgiving. We have had a small congregation present. After the Eucharist we have been praying for the past thirty-seven days for revival and the healing of our nation. We continue and will continue. Those who have lost all are in our prayers. And, I hope all who read this would pray for us.

This Sunday we will gather as family and connect to each other around the Table of the Lord. We will determine how we can help each other. I hope the Church will be full and all will be able to come so that we can remind ourselves once again of who it is that brings us into unity and fills us with His love.

God is being given the glory.