After The Storm
by Maria Luci
At the end of October, after devastating large portions of the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy furiously ripped her way up the East Coast of the United States. The storm affected 24 states, from Florida to Maine, with the biggest damage happening in New Jersey and New York. Over 100 people died from Sandy’s wrath and millions more were left without power. In New York, fires and floods took lives, homes and power as the largest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded moved through the city.
After the storm passed, and things began to get back to normal here in the Philadelphia area (where Wonderful Machine is located), I got in touch with a few of our photographers in New York City to hear their experiences with Sandy. I first spoke with Brooklyn-based Tim Soter, who was hired by the Daily Mail to shoot Sandy’s aftermath in Staten Island. Tim recounts:
I received a call from Daily Mail on Friday morning asking if I could go out to Staten Island, a writer would pick me up with a rental car he acquired at JFK airport. I grabbed my gear, loaded up some food and water, and got in. When we arrived in Staten Island all of the traffic lights were out, police were directing traffic and keeping an eye on the long gas lines.
The writer with me had heard rumors that a local school had been turned into a morgue, a tip we investigated that turned out to be false. We then drove to the neighborhood of Oakwood—a flat marshland located very close to the Atlantic—all of the homes there were devastated, neighbors were helping neighbors drag most of the contents of their homes to the muddy curb. For the first time since the storm, the Red Cross van arrived with free coffee and soup but the residents complained that they needed practical items; brooms, gloves and masks. I photographed a story on a father and son that had died in each other’s arms in their basement. The family we spoke with had just returned from the funeral.
These photos hopefully raise awareness as to how many damaged parts of Staten Island there are and that relief should be administered consistently over the next few weeks, or months.
Giovanni Savino was also in Manhattan during the storm. Luckily, he found himself out of harm’s way and was able to document some of the damage in Coney Island, but not as quickly as he would have liked. Giovanni explains:
I live on the very northern tip on Manhattan, so I have been counting my blessings, as we did not experience any major inconveniences from the storm up here. On the very day of the storm, I received several request from national and international news outlets asking me to go out there and cover it. But I had to turn everybody down as I had been booked weeks before by a French production company to shoot something completely unrelated to Sandy…
However, as it happens, the French producer was in town already, stuck in a hotel without power or water. So, after lending my own studio as a temporary production office, we ventured into New Jersey as soon as they re-opened the George Washington Bridge.
Although the images we were shooting in New Jersey were completely unrelated to the storm, I was able to take 1 (yes, one) decent photograph, from a ramp leading to the Lincoln Tunnel, illustrating an eerie and unusual Manhattan skyline, the Empire State being the only lit building.
After another couple of days of frustration at not being able to cover the events, still at work for the French production company, I finally managed to break free and reach Coney Island. There, I photographed the painful clean-up operation, the sand-covered boardwalk and the many story-telling, somewhat surreal, everyday objects the storm had left scattered along the beach.
And finally, I got in touch with Winnie Au, who was also kind enough to share some of her photos along with her experience with Sandy:
Monday arrived, and my friends and I were all off from work; we were each at our homes nervously watching the television. It started to get really windy, and I began to feel anxious. Some of my friends said they were going to go take pictures near the waterfront. That sounded like a horrible idea to me. I’m a wuss. Which is probably why I didn’t end up in journalism photography. I watched the arrival of Sandy from the safety of my couch.
The area I live in, Williamsburg/Greenpoint, was fine. We had some fallen trees, the skylight of my office building was torn off, we lost internet; but basically everything here was normal.
In the days after we heard about the power outages, lack of heat and hot water, the total devastation of New Jersey, Staten Island, Rockaways, Coney Island, and Red Hook. We went out to the Williamsburg Waterfront which is where I shot the images of the half lit Williamsburg Bridge and half lit Manhattan skyline.
I began to feel pretty curious about Manhattan and what it was like with no power, so I rode my bike into Soho with my camera. It was dark, quiet, and so still. It looked like a movie set. It was a Friday night in one of the busiest neighborhoods of NYC, and there was barely a soul on the street. The only thing you could see were a few people wearing headlamps or carrying flashlights, making little lights that darted about, like fireflies on a summer’s night. It was a surreal experience, and it’s almost impossible to say in words or show in pictures that feeling of quietness that existed.
By the end of the week, I felt restless and a bit guilty for continuing to have a normal life while other people were suffering. I saw that my friends had been volunteering, so I started following Red Hook Initiative and decided to ride my bike out to help out and to also see first hand what had happened out there. When I got to Red Hook Initiative, they were handing out hot meals, batteries, blankets, clothes. Red Hook still has no power, and it was another dark neighborhood filled with people who have lost parts of their businesses, parts of their homes, or were lacking heat and hot water. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have a lot, and the hurricane has only complicated things further.
The next day we helped a warehouse clean out the water logged product that used to be their paper business—doilies, paper cups, paper bags, etc—all things that were completely ruined by the 5 feet of water that entered the warehouse. We threw away box after box of very smelly, muddy, rust colored soaked product. It was gross, and it was a tiny tiny fraction of what Sandy has done to the New York/New Jersey area.
That’s been my experience thus far with Sandy. It’s been heartwarming to see so many people come together to organize and help their neighbors. The silver lining in this whole thing has been to see that people genuinely want to help each other out.
To help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, you can donate to the Red Cross.