Still Here: Superstorm Sandy 5 Years Later
As our community prepares to observe the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the Rockaway Advocate got a chance to speak to Khaleel Anderson, a current Queens College student and resident of Far Rockaway, about the destruction caused by the storm and the subsequent flooding. Mr. Anderson and his family evacuated during both Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Having a home across the street from Jamaica Bay necessitated that the family heed all flood warnings. For nearly a week, his family was put up in an emergency shelter in Queensborough Community College in Bayside. During the storm, it was difficult to get information. In this interview, Mr. Anderson discusses his experience leading up to, during, and after the storm.
Rockaway Advocate: What was going through your mind in the days leading up to the storm?
Khaleel Anderson: For many, my family included, we thought Sandy would be like Hurricane Irene. Folks predicted that Irene would be devastating and it wasn’t. So when the news had warned us about Sandy, we evacuated but we didn’t think it’d be that bad. Almost like we were lulled to sleep into a false sense of security.
RA: So what was it like for you during the storm at the shelter?
KA: We slept on cots. We had MRE’s [Meals Ready to Eat] and we stayed there for two or three days until we were allowed to check on our home.
RA: When did you go back to Far Rockaway?
KA: Well public transportation was suspended during the storm. Buses weren’t running, the A train wasn’t running. Three days after the storm we were able to travel and we had to take three buses to go see what happened.
RA: How did you feel when you saw your neighborhood for the first time after the storm?
KA: I don’t know how to describe it. It was a different world. There was no electricity. Even during the day, you could tell that there was no electricity. It was cold. It seemed like a wasteland, like no one should be living there. When my brother and I got back to our house, you could tell that our first floor had flooded badly. After we did the cleanup and the gutting, we realized that we had at least four or five feet of water in our living room. It was depressing, the TV was knocked over and the house smelled like mildew.
RA: What else was going on in the community?
KA: Folks were just trying to get their lives back on track. But there was also a lot of shady stuff happening. The buses stopped running at 6pm so some van drivers saw this as an opportunity to make money. They increased their prices nearly 3 fold, trying to make a dollar off of our backs.
RA: Wow! Were there other examples of greed?
KA: After the storm, disaster capitalism found a foothold in our community. Organizations would come into our community, without knowing our community and try to help, but they didn’t know us.
RA: How did you cope in the immediate aftermath?
KA: I spent of lot of time trying to help others. My family was still living in shelters and hotels, but I tried to get down to the Rockaways whenever I could. In the first couple of days after the storm, we didn’t have school so I spent most of my days helping and serving food. RYTF did a distribution center and I was spending most of my time there. I wasn’t sidelined, but it was tough being displaced. But what kept me going was being a part of an organization that was rooted in the community. At RYTF, we went places that those larger organizations couldn’t go. People had been without water and groceries for days and we mobilized and climbed high rise buildings to make sure our community was taken care of. Other organizations tried to capitalize on the destruction. They tried to plant themselves in our community to receive grant money, when local groups didn’t get anything. For a year after the storm, we were fighting against disaster capitalism.
RA: So what’s one thing you’d want people to know about Far Rockaway and what this community experienced?
KA: Coming up on our five year anniversary, half a decade later, we’re not any more prepared for a storm than we were before Sandy. We still don’t have an evacuation plan and by that I mean a cohesive, coherent, community based plan that everybody is aware of. It’s a work in progress, but we need to start developing that. I can’t say that we’re more prepared than we were yesterday. We’re good at responding, but we’re not good at preparation and I think that’s where we need to improve. Not to say that work is not being done. We have very valuable local groups like Ready Rockaway and congregations that are doing good work, but we need a unified plan and it needs to be made by people from this community.
Mr. Anderson’s story sheds light on the resiliency of the Rockaway community as well as the level of trauma that residents endured in 2012. He went on to discuss the impact of climate change on coastal communities and the importance of integrating sustainable techniques into his lifestyle. Mr. Anderson is a current student at Queens College and works with State Senator James Sanders’ office. To learn more about Khaleel, you can find him on twitter at @khaleelanderson.