Saturday, November 10, 2012

To New York from Boston With Love - Dropkick Murphys Relief Convoy

When the opportunity arose to drive to New York with the Dropkick Murphys Claddaugh Fund hurricane relief team, there was no possible way to say no. How can you say no to that? On Friday, November 9, 2012, I jumped on the DKM relief convoy and headed to two Hurricane Sandy major disaster areas.

Donations organized at the DKM space the night before
Filling up gas tank donations in Connecticut

Four vehicles packed with food, water, tools and other disaster relief essentials, traveled from Boston to New York. Among the volunteers were Dropkick Murphys Merchandise Manager, Band Manager for Larry and His Flask and founder of Acme Band Supply, Shawn Flores, singer for Boston punk band Dead Ellington, Sal Ellington, and several fans and friends of the Dropkicks. One volunteer who drove down with his father was only in 8th grade. I asked him if he skipped school for this. He said yeah. Cool, I skipped work for this.

Taking Back Sunday bassist, Shaun Cooper, tweeted about
the DKM Convoy while we were in Long Beach

Our first stop was Long Beach, NY. Initially we noticed the abundance of down trees. Most gas stations were closed and empty. Those that were open had waiting lines at least 15 cars deep. The street lights hadn’t been working since we arrived. At about 2pm, we stopped at the corner of Beach Street and Arizona Avenue to regroup with other Boston volunteers. Properties sat abandoned and waterlogged along streets parallel and perpendicular to the beach. The continuous sound of generators would be intermittently interrupted by the loudspeaker from a migrating American Red Cross truck. “We have water, we are here to help. We came all the way from North Carolina. Do you need water?”

American Red Cross workers traveled to NY from North Carolina

You must find beauty in the bad.
Arizona Ave. beach walkway

Garbage from flooded basements littered the street and piles of destroyed belongings accumulated in front of every bungalow and businesses. It was evident there was still no working water in some areas. A flatbed tow truck loaded with a car, still half buried in sand, drove past us. Despite the wreckage, the attitude among most residents was neutral as they moved forward to clean and rebuild and appreciated the Murphys help as they smiled, waved and took pictures.

The DKM Convoy traveled to
Long Beach and Rockaway Beach New York

As we continued to one of the hardest hit areas, Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York, the conversations and music emitted from our van started to fade. “Put on your hazards and stay really close to us,” were our new caravan instructions.

Our convoy heads deep into Rockaway Beach as the sun sets

First you noticed sand where sand shouldn’t be. Covering the roads, hiding the sidewalks. Then you realize the cars you’ve been passing aren’t parked, they’re abandoned, strewn cockeyed, sideways, half on the curb, into or on top of other vehicles, and covered with muddy sand. Flyers advertising reasonably priced automobile removal were pinned under some windshield wipers. Sick. At around 4pm, we passed our first police detail wearing face masks and turned onto Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Directly in the path of the setting sun, which was the color of a red hot burning coal, hazy by the dust and sand in the air. Finally, there came the smell of raw sewage.

Sand piled as high as snow from a blizzard. Cars destroyed beyond repair. Store fronts boarded up like they went out of business months ago. It had started to get dark, but I kept my sunglasses on so no one could see me getting teary-eyed.

The frame of a structure that had burned down, directly next to the church
We arrived at Saint Francis de Sales Church at Beach 129th Street, in the Bell Harbor neighborhood. A street over from where the fires had broken out a few days before. The sidewalk was a mess of volunteers and people in need, definitely the most individuals I had seen since arriving in the area. When you volunteer, you don’t just drop off your items, you unload everyone’s van, truck or U-Haul. You get mistaken for a relief center worker and try your best to help a resident find some coffee or where the D batteries and flashlights are. You cooperate with other volunteers by making a human chain to unload three pallets of heaters. And you say "You’re welcome"…a lot, when people come up and personally thank you and your organization for helping. The Dropkick Murphys and their crew were called good hearted people, good souls and heroes.

These relief centers are in need of food, water, batteries,
cleaning supplies, flashlights, diapers, shovels, brooms,
and other disaster relief items.
With no gas stations for miles, the Dropkick's donation was
beyond belief for many residents

We didn’t leave Rockaway until about 8:30pm. I wanted to stay and help for the rest of the weekend. Finding our way off of the peninsula was the most unnerving process. Ignoring the GPS instructions as some roads no longer existed, we slowly crept by roadway construction, cars that had ran out of gas, streets lit up with flashing police lights, and National Guard military vehicles.

Driving home, all we could do was reflect on what we saw. Complete and utter devastation. Very similar to any Hollywood director's idea of what the end of the world might look like. And living on the coast myself, a very big reality check and humbling experience. A storm like this can be a great equalizer, but it also brings out the best in people. We traveled 4.5 hours from Boston, Massachusetts to Queens, New York and back the same day. We took off work and school. We provided material items and physical labor. My entire body was sore the morning after, but I don’t regret a thing and absolutely urge people to volunteer in these areas if possible. And if not, then at least donate what you can to the American Red Cross. Even $5 will go somewhere. I heard the President is heading to Rockaway. Bring some sunglasses, you may get misty eyed.

You can view additional images from our trip here. But believe me, these images don't do nearly as much justice to the situation as this video found on the Rockaway Beach website. There is absolutely no exaggeration in the following images or message. I volunteered my time because in the event that this ever happens to me, I'd want help.

1 comment:

  1. That's awesome that you did that. I can't imagine how hard it must be for everyone hit by the storm. We got lucky in Mass.


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