I (Ceredwyn) have been back from New Jersey since Saturday. Every single day I watch the news and wish I could go back. There's just so much to be done. Perhaps later in the recovery I will go back. Or perhaps I'll go and help out at the next inevitable disaster.
Some are beginning to call Sandy "Katrina on the Hudson" due to the tales that are circulating about the Scary stories are coming out of Sandy's aftermath: One is the restricting of information coming out of the FEMA shelters. Others are of people trapped in high rise apartments without power for days. Doctors Without Borders are operating in the United States for the first time ever.
The people who have set up the most efficient supply distribution network are the Occupy people. My theory of why this is so is that most of the Occupy volunteers are locals. They know what they and their neighbors need.
Elderly and disabled folk in their 40th story apartments have only been able to get water and other supplies because their neighbors have been helping them. The National Guard, FEMA, the Red Cross and other "authorities" have taken two weeks (or more) to get into some places. I'm in no way knocking what the large organizations can do, but mobilizing them takes time. You have to get people there in the first place and, no matter how good at their jobs people are, they're operating in an unfamiliar environment. Add to that government and organizational bureaucracy and there are still people out in the Rockaways and Staton Island without power, heat or medical care almost three weeks after Sandy.
The reason responders are not finding more bodies in apartments is because of local volunteer efforts.
I keep saying that the most important disaster preparations are in your head. These include the emotional connections you make.
People who help people are better off in disaster. At the shelter where I was working, we talked about how wonderful it was that people were looking after each other. Sure, there were arguments and snappish tempers, but for the most part people were kind. These people were coming out of what was often the worst trauma of their lives and the were responding with their "tend and befriend" instincts, rather than the "fight or flight".
There was a surprising amount of laughter there. And sharing stuff. And so much kindness. Some residents had issues that could have easily been dealt with cruelly but the other residents, but rather than ostracism, these people were helped by others.
A resident came to talk with me about a very fat woman who'd had a stroke some years ago. She had mobility issues and speech issues. He wanted to make sure we were getting her hooked up with the proper assistance. He commented that she was such a sweet woman, and then said, "And even if she were an asshole, she'd still deserve the help."
This, from a man who'd literally lost everything. It would have been very easy for him to spend that time with me demanding that I address his issues.
After Irene, it was some time before every place that was cut off got help. Until that help came, people were left to their own resources. On of their biggest resources was their neighbors.
There is nothing more vulnerable than a human being alone. The people who envision themselves being lone wolves in some Mad Max future are in for a surprise when they experience their personal SHTF moments. Lone wolves suffer. Lone wolves die.
The thing that increases one's risk of PTSD more than anything else is isolation. Risk of heart attack? Isolation., Increases risk of mortality in a disaster? Isolation.
In a disaster, you cannot wait for "the proper authorities" to rescue you. For many of the residents of New Jersey and New York, it is the proverbial End of The World As You Know It. They are surviving, not through FEMA or any other outside agency, but through the power of community.