By Sasha Murphy - Additional reporting by Adavie Gutierrez
“ I’ve never seen devastation like this,” said a New Community College student from the destitute community of Cabrera, Kenya, as he revisited the areas affected by Sandy with members of Lehman’s Office of Community Engagement.
“There were all kinds of stories. One girl told me how she had to carry her grandmother up and down flights of steps,” said senior Joanne Ruiz, of the Lehman Office of Community Engagement, as she spoke about what she heard visiting areas such as the Lower East Side. “ I’ve even seen students begin to cry as they told me their stories.”
Despite the efforts that CUNY has established to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, some students are still struggling with the physical and psychological consequences of one of the most powerful natural disasters to ever hit the region.
Dally Perez, 25, who works as a 24-hour front desk concierge at a private residential building attached to the Setaî Hotel on Fifth Avenue, says her building and attached hotel didn’t have electricity or hot water. She had to sleep at her job for five days.
Most of the residents were gone from the building but those who stayed behind bonded with the staff that was helping them weather out the storm. “It’s funny how during the storm we were regular people, [there was] no level of class,” Perez said. “We all came together.”
Natalie Oliviencia, 19, is a psychology major who lives in Rockaway Beach in Queens. Living in a Primary Zone A, she was told to evacuate. Her mother, father, and younger sister left, but she decided to stay behind with a friend who lives on higher grounds.
“We were told to evacuate during Irene and nothing happened,” she said. “Many of us didn’t evacuate.” However, Sandy wasn’t like Irene. Her friend lost power and there wasn’t much for her to do but gape at Sandy’s power. “Our entertainment was watching houses burn down and there was nothing we could do,” she said. “I saw the waves go over the boardwalk, and now there is no such thing as a boardwalk.”
Oliviencia said she was thankful for all the volunteers that have come out to help. Two weeks after the storm, she said that there is still no heat, hot water, or electricity in most of her neighborhood and a 5 p.m. curfew has been set.
There is no transportation to go in and out of that part of Queens after the curfew, so Oliviencia has been staying home from school since classes reverted to a regular schedule on Monday November 5. “There is no way for me to get to the outside world,” she emailed her teachers.
Denise Maldonado, 19, who lives on the Lower East Side, was home when the hurricane hit and she watched it destroy the property around her. “The water level was rising above car level,” she said.
She lost electricity but was safe inside her home. Once the worst of the storm passed, she decided to stay at her aunt’s house in Brooklyn to do homework, but the aftermath has affected transportation to certain parts of the city. “It takes me two hours to get to school and three hours to get back home. It’s crazy,” she said.
Her electricity is back on but she can’t say the same for her neighbors. “There’s been a lot of chaos because some people have electricity and some don’t,” she said.
Lehman is stepping up to engage in relief efforts as a community. Joanne Ruiz said that students were pouring in donations, and that her office is welcoming donations from non-students as well.
Items such as toiletries, batteries and water are needed; however, the college is not accepting clothing.
Workers of the Building and Grounds Department worked to keep the campus and community safe during and after the storm.
Despite their efforts, three trees were uprooted with one nearly hitting the new Science Building
Directly across from Gate 7, a tree was uprooted from the concrete, but it didn’t damage anything.
In preparation for Sandy, many precautions were taken, from the removal of potential flying objects, the closing of windows, the removal of garbage cans, and the clearing of all drains. Sandy left almost no trace on campus as all hazardous items were quickly cleaned up by the time classes resumed on November 2.
Chief Administrative Superintendent Ray Pegollo explained that he worked throughout the storm, although he lives in Long Island, another area affected by Sandy. In the days during and after Sandy, he has slept mostly on campus in his office, in order to make sure the campus community remained safe.
Safety has become a significant factor for all those affected by the storm and many CUNY campuses, including Lehman, were declared evacuation centers.
The city, FEMA, the Red Cross and the Office of Emergency Management have utilized a designated area in the Apex to hold anywhere from 50 to 130 evacuees.
The evacuation center’s assistant site manager, Alan Ferrel, explains that although the facility is at Lehman it does not preference CUNY students; the facility is open to all.
The shelter is providing services such as food, water, and cell phone access for those without electricity.
All evacuation declared shelters uptown in non-emergency areas have been compounded into one by Mayor Bloomberg’s order last week. The Lehman facility will be closing down in the coming weeks due to lack of emergency needed in the uptown area.
Life after Sandy
Everyone at Lehman has been affected by what has been jokingly named “Frankenstorm” Sandy.
Dr. Norma Cofresí, director of the Counseling Center, explained, some of the damage Sandy left was also psychological. Cofresí said that most of the people who approached her center for help were not direct victims themselves, but they came from disaster-prone areas of the world. “It triggered memories, fear for their family, and just a general feeling of not being safe.”
From the outpouring of donations from those who were not as affected, to the work ethic of the Building and Grounds Department, Lehman is slowly working to get students back to normal.
* The evacuation center at Lehman welcomes volunteers. When they have enough volunteers, they reserve the right to turn people down.