Major Effort to Help in Rockaways

Residents here mobilize on ground and via social media for cold and homeless
Dorine Drohan, left, and Marilyn Torres of East End Cares unloaded donated goods at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Belle Harbor in the Rockaways on Sunday. Hampton Pix

    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 electrical 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 in Haiti.
    “Does the world know how bad it is here?” asked Ms. Thompson on Twitter over the weekend from Rockaway, Queens. Top needs include medication, she posted. The power won’t be on for at least a month, 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.
    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 Montauker who works as a New York City fireman, was able to help 1,200 firefighters made homeless by the storm 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 the only hot food Rockaway residents had was soup brought by Mark Smith and Joe Realmuto of a group that runs Nick and Toni’s and Rowdy Hall in East Hampton, among other restaurants. 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 food to the Rockaways. Mr. Smith and Mr. Realmuto have offered Nick and Toni’s and Townline BBQ in Sagaponack as early drop-off locations for refrigeration of sandwiches and for food preparation.
    Mr. Lydon became involved when he learned that firefighters whom he knew from the World Trade Center area in Lower Manhattan (he used to live and own a restaurant in the neighborhood) had lost everything to Sandy’s storm surge. He took his 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 the Nov. 7 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 in an interview on Friday. “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, and 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, “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. “Specific regions and blocks need to be mentioned.” There is a lot of bad information out there, she said.
    Mr. Gualtieri said 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.
    “Desperately needed” monetary 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.
    “We can’t keep waiting for the government to act while people freeze,” Ms. Berman posted online 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.
    Thanks to one woman’s donation, East End Cares quickly exceeded its $60,000 goal 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. These were to have arrived in the middle of this week, before it gets even colder. Also needed from the government, Ms. Berman said, is a sanitation system. For now, the group has raised enough money for approximately 200 portable toilets for one month.
    “This will prevent serious illness from raw sewage, particularly for children, a public health disaster,” Ms. Berman wrote on Sunday.
    “The flip side of the horror show on the ground is this incredible show of love,” said Ms. Thompson.
    Others on the South Fork are deploying countless measures to help those in need to the west, such as Operation Sandwich, started by Sally Richardson of Montauk. “The response has been amazing,” she said by e-mail on Monday. “I have had so many people dropping off hundreds of sandwiches. . . . I left coolers out on my drive and every time I went down to check they were packed full of sandwiches.” She said she was headed to the Rockaways on Tuesday to set up a sandwich table. A bakery in East Hampton Town made 80 loaves of bread for her to take with her, too.
    Andy Sabin of Springs told The Star he’d hired a driver to take a van packed with pet food to a veterinarian in the Rockaways who was feeding animals in need. He said he would provide a continuous supply of food as needed. Mr. Sabin also matched $17,000 in donations at a relief concert for various East End charities on Saturday night.
    Those who wish to make an online donation to support East End Cares’ on-the-ground efforts can click on a PayPal button on Paddlers for Humanity’s Web site, p4h.org. Checks can be made out to Paddlers for Humanity, P.O. Box 2555, East Hampton 11937, with “East End Cares” on the memo line. As East End Cares is a nonprofit organization, all donations are tax-deductible, and a letter or e-mail will be sent to donors who request one. There are cash collection buckets throughout Montauk, Amagansett, Springs, and East Hampton.
    In light of the desperate need for additional hotel and motel rooms for those unable to return to their homes for an extended period of time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has invited participation in its Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, an initiative intended to provide short-term lodging for eligible disaster survivors who are in shelters. Lodging expenses are paid by FEMA directly to the lodging provider, with any incidental costs (phone charges, room service, parking, etc.) the responsibility of lodgers. Hotel and motel owners interested in taking part can register at ela.corplodging.com.
    “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.”