2005-09-09 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken Many Lessons To Be Learned

By Elisa Hinken
Many Lessons To Be Learned

This week’s column deviates a little bit from my prior columns, yet it directly relates to our health, safety and welfare. I’ve written columns about our wetlands, emergency preparedness, evacuations, etc. Yet we cannot prepare ourselves enough emotionally in response to the events over the last two weeks.

Not since the tragic events of September 11 have I felt so helpless. The news from the gulf states has been devastating to say the least. A natural disaster that was PREDICTED and warnings were issued, but lives were lost nonetheless. There are lessons to be learned here. Many volunteers from all over the country have embarked on a journey to aid those who are homeless and suffering. This isn’t a third world country. This is the United States! Although the tsunami in Indonesia was devastating, we, as a prominent nation on the globe always offer help in many ways on foreign soil, but now we need help ourselves. Where is the British Air Force? Where is the Russian Navy? We aid everyone else on this earth, yet as of this writing (I write this column usually about one week in advance), I don’t see the strength or caliber of support we offer everyone else come to us in our time of need!

I have a good amount of knowledge in Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness, based on education and various experiences. One of my jobs is to update Emergency and Disaster Preparedness policies and procedures for implementation by my clients who are home health care agencies all around the state of New York. My information has to be accurate, concise and based on the latest technology, advances and information deployed by various federal and state agencies. Why wasn’t the Armed Services dispatched within 24 hours? Where are the Naval Hospital ships in short order? How about commandeering a few cruise ships to help house those who are stranded? Where are the communications in areas that are shut off from radio and television? Oh yes, I cannot and will not ever forget this: if television reporters and cameramen can get to our American citizens in need for interviews and provide so much televised footage, how come rescuers and military personnel are not on the ground with them?

The federal government so far has been slow in helping the hungry, thirsty and desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina, former top federal, state and local disaster chiefs said. The experts, including a former Bush administration disaster-response manager, said that the government was not prepared, had scrimped on storm spending and had shifted its attention from dealing with natural disasters to the global fight against terrorism. The agency at the center of the relief effort is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is now part of the Department of Homeland Security. “What you’re seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels,” said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA’s chief of disaster response. “All three levels have been weakened. They’ve been weakened by diversion into terrorism.”

I remember in the early hours of September 11 there were no airplanes available to fly in supplies that were desperately needed from nearby states. Sure, there were supplies starting to roll in four and five days later, but not within the first twelve to twenty-four hours.

In the last forty eight hours (remember, I’m writing this within 48 hours of the hurricane striking the gulf), e-mails have been going back and forth at a fast pace.. One person wrote about their own personal experience. Their disaster was not a hurricane but a powerful nor’easter, and even though nearly 13 years have passed since the great storm of Dec. 11, 1992, the Furth family can’t help but think about it when they watch the news of Hurricane Katrina. “I feel so sorry for the people down there,” Lou Furth wrote. The storm caught the Furths and others in this north shore Nassau County beach community by surprise. By the time the rain and snow stopped three days later, the nor’easter had knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers across Long Island, flooded streets and caused $200 million in damage. Bayville was one of the hardest hit. Much of the village sat under five feet of water for five days and sustained $10 million in damage.

The south shore of Long Island didn’t fare any better. My husband, children and I were living in Atlantic Beach, a barrier island, at the time the same nor’easter hit, at high tide. We were stranded. The plaza to the Atlantic Beach Bridge was flooded on one side while the ocean met the bay in the East Atlantic Beach section of Long Beach on the other side. Luckily, my children were in school during the high tide and were able to come home at the end of their day since the tide receded by then. Million dollar boats were slamming into million dollar homes. This event made an indelible impression on me. My parents spoke many times of Hurricane Donna ravaging Rockaway in the 1960’s. As a toddler, I remember “fishing” in the pond of water that accumulated inside the first floor of our house in Arverne. My father owned a row boat, using it to help others escape to safety on the higher terrain of Beach Channel Drive while cars were floating sideways on our street, Beach 66th.

After Hurricane Donna, the City wanted to raise the street and sidewalks so such flooding would not occur again. Homeowners successfully fought against this because it would then cause homes and driveways to sit at a lower grade, increasing the probability of damage from rainstorms.

If you look closely at the people who could not evacuate the gulf coast, those are the poorest, neediest and highest risk of all persons – people who have little or no communication (no phones or televisions) and no personal car to use in order to evacuate.

Speaking of evacuations, plans that were in place failed terribly. The Louisiana Superdome with its floppy roof was a disaster waiting to happen. Vertical evacuations failed because of the loss of power and extensive flooding. Those who did evacuate to other towns and cities were at a loss too because of the shift in the eye of the hurricane, devastating areas they sought refuge in.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are real situations that pose real problems for all of us here on the Rockaway Peninsula. The only solution if the same weather scenario should affect us, is to evacuate as soon as the 72 hour notice is given and seek much higher ground, such as the mountains of New York and New Jersey, away from water all together. The mountains are within a fifty mile range. Amtrak and MetroNorth trains travel up to the mountains.

Plan out an evacuation plan NOW and also pack a “Go Bag” to take with you.

Have it ready at all times.

This bag is also used for other emergencies involving various terrorist assaults.

Even something as widespread as a power outage dictates readiness in times of need.

May our prayers be centered on those who need it the most at this time and our pocketbooks open to give to relief causes, giving, not until it hurts, but until it feels good.

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