Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day 2: Cleanup continues

After staying up until 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, my day began at 6:30 a.m., all bright and blurry-eyed. After a quick shower, I headed to the dining hall for some breakfast, courtesy of the National Relief Network. After breakfast 10 of our group members headed over to the Salvation Army to assist with helping the survivors find what they need and listen to their stories. The rest of us, myself included, headed back to Little Egg Harbor to continue our cleanup efforts. I must admit, the area today wasn’t too bad. Don’t get me wrong, certain areas were pretty trashed, lots of wood, doors, even an air conditioner. There were also tons of bottles, bags, styrofoam, even a few tennis balls. Another one of our group members also discovered the handlebars to a bicycle, but no bike. We did find a single pedal and bar from a bike though. 

Piling some wood beams and a garbage bag full of bottles and other trash onto one of the piles our group assembled during clean up at Little Egg Harbor.  

There was a lot more work in the morning, a lot more piles. At noon we too a break for lunch, and continued with the cleanup again later. However, once we crossed the bridge there was some cleanup to do, but within maybe 45 minutes there was nothing, no trash. We assumed that because the area was wide open that any debris that was there just got washed further down. The main areas where there was a lot of junk were areas with trees, which probably trapped the debris. Still, we managed to make a sizeable dent.


Elyria Catholic High School boys lug some of the heavier debris up a small hill and lift it over the guardrail to put by the side of the road. Thank God for those high school boys, they dominated removing the major/heavy debris. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
Even though the area was not as bad as other places, we still made a difference. Every piece of trash that we picked up, all the major wooden and metal objects that the Elyria Catholic High School boys lugged up, is something less that the locals or other relief groups have to do. Plus, the areas that were majorly affected like Breezy Point and Hoboken are the areas that are getting a lot of attention, a lot of aid. Smaller areas like Little Egg Harbor do not get as much attention, the devastation may not be as severe as other areas, but that does not mean the work is any less important. So while we may not be in an area that is completely and totally devastated, we are working in an area that otherwise might not be a priority to other groups.

Towards the end of the day, we were greeted by a special visitor: Little Egg Harbor Mayor John Kehm. The mayor, along with a couple of his administrators, took the time to come out and thank us, and to tell us just how much our help means to them, and how much they were affected by Hurricane Sandy. That visit was a complete surprise to me. While none of us on the trip are here for recognition - we are here because we want to help others - it was really neat to have the mayor stop by and speak to our group.


Trust me...I'm a reporter: Little Egg Harbor Mayor John Kehm stopped by say thank you to our group, and got a kick out of my hat.

The rest of my group introduced me to Kehm and told him that I was documenting our trip and would be writing an article for the Sun Prairie newspaper, The Star. Then they told him about the hat I was wearing all day, which EVERYONE got a kick out of. The hat in question was given to me by my boss a few months ago, which he picked up at the Newseum. It is a black cap, and across the front, written in white, are the words “Trust me....I’m a reporter.” When I donned it again, Kehm got a kick out of it and started laughing, and we had to get a photo together.

We then departed Little Egg Harbor and headed over to Seaside Heights. I have to admit, that was much harder to see. Seaside Heights was hit pretty hard. By the ocean’s edge are huge sand piles, I’d have to say probably 10 feet tall. That was not there before Hurricane Sandy hit. As a matter of fact, that area used to be the Boardwalk. While some houses in the city were just fine, others were abandoned and beyond repair.


No, I did not take the photo crooked. The above house in Seaside Heights, N.J. was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. In addition to pretty much having a side of the house destroyed, the foundation was damaged, tilting the house sideways. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)

More than a few houses were knocked off their foundation and slanting on one side. Still others had sides missing from their house, or sides completely knocked in and reduced to piles of wood. CDs, alarm clocks, DVDs, and the rest of the contents of houses were scattered all around. But one of the hardest things for me was the American flag by one of the last houses before the beach. Despite the storm and the raging winds that Hurricane Sandy wrought, the flagpole was still standing. A portion of the flag was gone, the tattered remains flapping in the breeze.

It was hard to see that flag tattered and torn, because it is a symbol of our great country. But at the same time, it also symbolized the strength of our country, and of our people. Winds in excess of 60 miles per hour raged, trees were uprooted, houses destroyed, lives lost. Yet that flag stayed rooted. It might have been tattered and torn, worn out, but it survived, it remained standing. While our country and community might be worn out and devastated, the strength of our people remains, the strength of our country is what keeps us able to weather any storm, face any tragedy, with determination.

Despite winds in excess of 60 miles per hour and damaging rain, this American flag, taken in one of the more seriously damaged areas in Seaside Heights, survived. While tattered and torn, I view it as a symbol of the strength of the United States and the American people. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
Tomorrow I will be heading over to the Salvation Army to help those affected by the storm, to hear their stories and provide a strong shoulder. The rest of the group will be heading somewhere different to help with a bucket brigade and put linoleum flooring in a house. While a part of me wishes I could do that with them as well, I would rather spend time getting the human interaction, the people that went through this firsthand, just providing the listening ear so many need.

It is easy to help clean up an area, easy to quantify a natural disaster into dollars of damage and lives lost, but sometimes we forget the human interaction. For those of us not affected, it is houses destroyed and debris, but for the people that survived, it is the total loss of everything, their homes, their land, and it can be devastating. As a journalist, I have a duty to share those stories, to make the public understand the real emotions and lives behind the tragedy, to put a human face to it. And to let those affected know that they are not forgotten, they continue to be in our hearts.

Photo taken from atop one of the large sand dunes by the beach in Seaside Heights. Shh, don’t tell the cops, but we were definitely not supposed to be there. The whole beach area was beyond the blockade. Sometimes as a reporter you have to take risks. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)

To see more photos from Wednesday's cleanup, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Who would forget about the infamous hurricane Sandy? I hope by now everyone has recovered from this tragedy, particularly those who lost loved ones due to this calamity. The damaged house and structure can be replaced, but not the lives of the ones we care about. Thus, it should be a necessity for those who live in a hurricane-prone area to have a safe shelter on their property as preparation for these sorts of natural calamity. Edwina @