Returning this past weekend from her second deployment to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy, Jennifer Tarwater said that it may take years for the East Coast to fully recover from the disaster.
It’s been well over 100 days since the hurricane hit New York, New Jersey and the East Coast.
Tarwater, disaster services director for the Eastern Kansas Chapter, American Red Cross, in Kansas City, Kan., said she originally was deployed Nov. 2, shortly after the hurricane hit, to help New Jersey victims. This time she was deployed for two weeks to the disaster headquarters in New York, and worked in Staten Island.
“Both are equally bad,” she said about the devastation that hit New York and New Jersey. It was the nation’s worst disaster, in terms of the number of homes affected, since Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, she said.
During her second deployment, the assistance effort changed from the response phase to the recovery phase, she said.
Usually the response phase is fairly short, meeting critical emergency, shelter, health and mental health needs, but this time the emergency agencies were still doing mobile feeding out of vehicles, 100 days later, she said.
But she believes the people are pretty resilient, especially in New York, she said.
“The biggest hurdle to getting them back on the road to recovery is housing,” Tarwater said. There isn’t a lot of available real estate in New York and New Jersey, she added.
“A lot of people were in rent-controlled property, and were used to paying a certain amount,” she said.
That means those trying to provide assistance have to work on finding permanent sustainable housing, she said. It’s not like the Midwest, where there is a lot of rental property.
While some residents were given temporary housing in hotel rooms, others were trying to live on the second floor of their homes, while the first floor was gutted, Tarwater said. They didn’t have heaters and appliances, she added.
It’s not certain whether people are going to be able to rebuild or will be bought out, because of changes in the flood plains boundaries. And housing may get worse in the spring, when the weather gets warmer, she added. Existing homes are battling mold, and that is very expensive to treat, she said.
Another hurdle is food, which is very expensive, she added. Those who were moved to hotels in Manhattan found that the cost of food was a lot more expensive than in Long Island or Staten Island, she added.
There’s also a need for mental health assistance, as some victims were feeling overwhelmed and depressed, she added.
Tarwater worked mainly with other agencies, community partners. Two volunteers from the Eastern Kansas chapter went along, providing mental health services and helping to work at a warehouse.
The local Red Cross chapter also had a large contingent of volunteers at the early response in New Jersey, and some are now on their second and third deployments, she said.
Tarwater enjoys helping disaster-stricken areas, and has been to floods, Colorado wildfires last July, and tornadoes, among other disasters. “This is just the largest one,” she added. While she was gone, there were six apartment fires in the area served by the chapter.
“Anytime they go out and experience a large-scale disaster, they come back and our chapter is stronger for that,” Tarwater said. “We’re better able to handle a large-scale disaster here because of the experience we’ve had being deployed nationwide.”