Video of surviving Superstorm Sandy goes viral
Published Monday, November 12, 2012 11:08AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 12, 2012 2:33PM EST
A poignant video showing the scenes of destruction and hardship left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in the Rockaway Beach section of Queens, N.Y., has gone viral.
Three days after the deadly hurricane came ashore with its four metre storm surge in the popular resort community, Michelle Cortez left her friend Heather a voicemail message.
"Hey Heather . It's Michelle -- Umm hi. I don't know, I can't even, I don't know what to say. I'm just happy that we're alive,"
Her voicemail -- and its plea for help for her devastated neighbourhood -- has since been turned into a mini-documentary by her friend Alex Braverman that, by midmorning Monday, had been seen by 127,932 people on YouTube since it was uploaded on Nov. 4.
"It was going through my mind I have very little battery and I have to use this wisely," Cortez told CTV’s Canada AM in a Skype interview on Monday.
"So let me just get in touch with a few people who are closest and nearest to me and have them spread the message out that we were OK because at that point we didn’t have anybody really coming in."
The hurricane left her neighbourhood -- with its stretch of sandy and usually well-tended beaches -- looking like something out of an end of the world movie starring Will Smith, she said, with 100 houses set on fire and garbage and furniture strewn in the streets.
The images show metal light standards felled by damaging winds. Cars piled on top of each other sit abandoned -- as if in a junkyard -- when they were actually in an apartment parking lot. Collapsed porches, houses shifted off their foundations and a white toilet partially buried in the sand surrounded by broken pieces of boardwalk that resemble giant toothpicks.
A woman, bundled up in a blue coat and a hat, sits on a chair in the sand, a boarded up and damaged building behind her. Tears rolling down his face, a man surveys the damage around him. Another man walks down the street in a parka, a rolled up green sleeping bag tucked under his arm. A couple runs up to each other, and hugs.
Miraculously, the green and white Rockaway Beach Boulevard sign stands upright unscathed, but surrounded by rubble.
The neighbourhood was in disarray and the needs were immediate, said Cortez.
"How am I going to get my friends out of their house that’s (sic) door is now behind a boardwalk, a slab of boardwalk?" said Cortez.
"Or how are we going to get this car out of the doorway so these people can leave this building?"
Now, almost two weeks after the superstorm struck, many people in her neighbourhood are still without power and it’s getting really cold, she said. Fires outside at night keep them warm. Supplies are coming in and volunteers are helping on the ground.
Paramedics fanned out across the Rockaways over the weekend to check on shut-ins but it was a slow process. Several people were taken to hospital.
Cortez and her friends have set up a relief centre where they accept donations, hand out supplies and hot food to people.
"It's a scramble, we’re just trying to reach as many people as we can," she said.
While volunteers are helping, Cortez feels abandoned by larger organizations whose presence is conspicuously absent on the ground, she said.
Before they can get power restored, residents have been told to hire an electrician to inspect outdoor hydro meters that may have been damaged by water to ensure they are not dangerous. While some people have done that, the Long Island Power Authority has been slow to get the power back on. And it’s a time consuming process since there are a lot of people without electricity.
For others, it’s not their main priority, said Cortez.
"Some people have lost their jobs, some people have lost their businesses, some people have lost everything that they owned, friends of mine and their families included," said Cortez.
"Hiring an electrician at the moment is just not something that is as easy as it may sound."