Providing emotional support for Superstorm Sandy survivorsSpecial to The Mountaineer
I write this from New York, where I am providing disaster mental health following Superstorm Sandy. As a volunteer with the American Red Cross, I have responded to several national disasters.
Sandy cut a wide swath of devastation that has left many residents in damaged homes without power in cold and windy weather. They are afraid to leave their homes and stay in shelters because they can’t secure their houses. One community that was especially hard hit was Meadowmere Park in Lawrence, New York. This neighborhood is right next to Queens.
The volunteer fire chief walked me around to introduce me to people. The chief grew up in this four by six block neighborhood and knows every person living there. Many shared stories of terror during the storm. Children were scared and adults were horrified as the wind and water took all they had.
The fire department sprang up as the hub of the community. The chief cooked dinner at the firehouse for up to 60 people every night. About 30 people took shelter in the firehouse sleeping on cots and donated blankets. The fire department even built a shower so people could clean up there. Children had a safe and warm place to hang out while their parents worked to clean up their homes. The chief did all this in spite of the fact that his own home had been sorely hit as well.
I was able to provide support to adults, children, and firefighters in this small, close-knit neighborhood that had seen such massive devastation. One man choked up as he said he felt like he was “as helpless as if I was back in diapers again”. One woman had salvaged irreplaceable family photos, now wrinkled and curled with water damage. Several children drew pictures of their storm experiences. They were able to talk about their fear and worries. One boy‘s greatest loss was that his cat hadn’t been seen since the storm.
I was shocked by the damage to homes and I felt the suffering of those who lost everything. Even more impressive to me was the resilience and emotional hardiness of these survivors. People know their neighbors and are looking out for them. Neighbors are taking care of each other. The fire chief is doing tangible things to take care of those he serves. There is a strong sense of community and hope in the face of despair.
I found myself thinking that New Yorkers are strong survivors. Then I realized that this isn’t just a New York trait; maybe taking care of each other in tough times is an American trait. The more I thought about it the more it seems this isn’t just a strength of New Yorkers or even Americans.
Maybe this is trait that all people have. Perhaps this is the triumph of the human spirit; that when times are hard we rise to the occasion and take care of those around us.
Martha Teater is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Waynesville. To see a video of her in Meadowmere Park go to www.redcross.org, then go to “Who We Are” at the bottom of the page and click “Media Resources”, then “Media Video Library”, then “Disaster Response-U.S.”, then “Sandy Mental Health”. To volunteer for the American Red Cross call 258-3888.