Reconstructing homes all over the East Coast

Kelly Lester/Courtesy

This year, like the past three years I’ve been at Cal, I flew home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. Only unlike every other year, home took the form of a temporary residence taken up in a relative’s house because Hurricane Sandy rendered my house unlivable.

I am from Long Beach, New York, a barrier island to Long Island, which is half a mile wide at its widest point. In Long Beach, we are used to hurricanes — we hang out on the boardwalk until the storm is about to hit, then we hunker down until it passes and resume business as usual as soon as it’s over.

Sandy was different. It tore through my hometown with a ferocity that was previously unmatched. While last year’s Irene gave us 18 inches of water in our basement, Sandy gave us six feet. It started car fires, which spread to house fires and the flooded street and high winds made it impossible for relief to come until two hours after the fires started. My neighbors ran from their homes into the flood, carrying their children over their heads, in fear that the fire would claim their home next.

When the storm was finally over, pictures of the devastation started to emerge. Water that had flooded the island was replaced by feet of sand, burying cars and front doors. Our boardwalk was entirely destroyed, with pieces of it in the middle of the island. Boats, 40 feet long, were pushed into the middle of main roads.

But the real damage became visible in the weeks after the storm. Ten thousand cars were destroyed in Long Beach alone, which has a population of more than 30,000 people. As residents began gutting their houses and throwing out their water-damaged possessions, the streets became lined with the contents of entire homes. There was no power or running water, and our schools suffered so much damage that they had to be closed for weeks following Sandy.

A month later, Long Beach still looks like a war zone. The trash piles that occupied the sidewalks are still there, flooded-out cars are still on the street, businesses are still closed and houses are still abandoned. While I don’t doubt that Long Beach and towns like it will come back from this storm stronger than they were before, it will take a long time and a lot of support.
It is easy to forget that it has only been a month since one of the worst natural disasters in American history ravaged the East Coast, and it is easy to forget that there are tens of thousands of people still unable to return to their homes because of it.

If your means allow, please take a minute to donate any amount of money you can to the ongoing relief efforts in New York and New Jersey. Students were on Sproul all day Thursday collecting spare change, or donate online at Your money will go towards helping to rebuild the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people affected by Hurricane Sandy. Thank you.

Kelly Lester is a senior at UC Berkeley.

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