South Fork Residents in Aid Effort in Rockaways

A volunteer checked the health of a Queens woman left in a precarious situation by Hurricane Sandy.

    Hundreds of elderly people in areas of Queens struck hard by Hurricane Sandy are stuck in high-rise apartments without food and water, according to Brian Lydon of East Hampton, who posted a report on East End Cares' Facebook page Saturday morning. This is just the tip of an iceberg of hidden devastation. There has been a lack of information provided to the outside world and minimal communication reaching the thousands who are suffering in cold, dark, conditions, Mr. Lydon said.

     Several Montauk residents quickly organized East End Cares to help victims after the Oct. 29 storm struck the Northeast. Both the Sag Harbor and Montauk Fire Departments sent teams to stricken areas on Saturday.

     "Imagine being on the 20th floor in pitch black and not knowing what's going on," said Melissa Berman, a writer and filmmaker from Montauk. With a recent estimate of six weeks until the electric infrastructure is rebuilt in some areas, she said it was critical to get supply lists from on the ground, "as they are changing all the time."

     No stranger to disaster relief, Ms. Berman spent time in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. "It was just horrible," she said.

     While in Haiti, Ms. Berman met Alison Thompson, who is running a major rescue and relief operation in the Rockaways, and reporting on it via social media. The women became close friends, and Ms. Berman wound up supporting a women's clinic that Ms. Thompson founded there.

     "Does the world know how bad it is here?" asked Ms. Thompson on Twitter yesterday from Rockaway, Queens. Top needs include medication, she posted. The power won't be on for a month at least, she said. "We need to get these people out."

     "We served over 4,000 tired, freezing, local, distressed people today and are expecting around 6,000 to 8,000 tomorrow," Ms. Thompson posted on Friday.

     Ms. Thompson described "a kind lady with six kids with no heat, food, water, power, or anywhere to go, who doesn't want to take too much aid in case others need it." She also posted about "a sick lady with diabetes and heart problems" who "cries in desperation about her daily struggle of climbing 16 floors of stairs a few times a day to find water and food in a freezing apartment with no power."

     Ralph Perricelli, a Montauk resident who works in Canarsie, Brooklyn, as a New York City fireman, was able to help 1,200 homeless firefighters from the area by posting their needs on the East End Cares Facebook page.  

     "Yesterday was the worst day yet," said Dan Gualtieri of Amagansett, who is also involved with East End Cares. He said that the only hot food the residents of the area had was soup brought by Mark Smith and Joe Realmuto of a restaurant group that runs Nick and Toni's and Rowdy Hall in East Hampton and several others. The two men, who help with a South Fork soup kitchen on most Wednesdays, could not do so because of power outages after Sandy, and, instead, took to the Rockaways.

     Mr. Lydon said he became involved when he learned that firefighters whom he knew from the World Trade Center area from his days of living there and owning a restaurant in the neighborhood had lost everything to Sandy's storm surge. He took his own truck and a generator, picked up Ms. Thompson at the airport, and has been there ever since. He slept in a command center without power in the St. Francis de Sales Parish in Belle Harbor, Queens, through Wednesday's northeaster. During the worst of it, he, Ms. Thompson, and others evacuated an 80-year-old man in what he called complete blackout conditions.

     "I'm living here for the last nine days," Ms. Thompson said yesterday. "Freezing, no heat, no way to get information to people. . . . We need intel on the ground, it is crucial." The government is trying, she said, so are aid groups, but the challenge is tremendous. "Volunteers are needed, especially midweek," she said.

     Ms. Thompson's Twitter feed, @lightxxx, is her main way of communicating while on rescue efforts.

     "The media comes to staging areas," she said in an interview Friday, "but 10 blocks to the south, people have nothing. We run out of food and water daily." She warned that the media should be very accurate in what it reports. She said that "specific regions and blocks need to be mentioned." There is a lot of bad information out there, she said.

     Mr. Gualtieri said that East End Cares can help "connect the dots with those on the ground." There is a Facebook forum, and the group has organized trips for those who want to lend a hand. The plan is to have a public meeting or online forum for prospective volunteers as well.

     "Desperately needed" donations, according to Ms. Berman, can be made online, and updates can be found on the Facebook page. Clothes are not needed right now, she said. Food is always needed, and baby supplies would be welcomed.

     "Everyone is needed," said Ms. Thompson. Paddlers for Humanity is accepting donations on behalf of East End Cares on its Web site. The money will go to on-the-ground efforts.

     "We can't keep waiting for the government to act while people freeze," Ms. Berman posted online on Sunday morning. She has asked that people sign a petition to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asking for warming stations with heaters and generators. There is no power, no gas to run generators, no communication except for volunteers spreading the word via Facebook and Twitter or on cellphones from a powerless command center, she wrote.

     East End Cares hopes to raise $60,000 by Monday night to purchase 100,000 "body warmers," of the kind used by the military and recommended as an immediate solution to keep people from freezing or asphyxiating from warming themselves with gas stoves. Also needed from the government, she said, is a sanitation system.

     "The flip side of the horror show on the ground is this incredible show of love," said Ms. Thompson.

     "Everything you do is so meaningful," said Ms. Berman. "People showing up says, 'We care about you.' "

     "Even a hug, you've made a difference," she said.