2010-09-24 / Top Stories

When You're Told To Leave, Leave

By Miriam Rosenberg

Dr. Ed Williams, president of the NAACP and a member of Ready Rockaway gives Katrina survivor “Mama” Audrey Mason some support as she tells her story. Dr. Ed Williams, president of the NAACP and a member of Ready Rockaway gives Katrina survivor “Mama” Audrey Mason some support as she tells her story. Ninety minutes before a disaster preparedness meeting in Rockaway was about to begin last week, Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx were hit by two tornadoes, and micro and macro bursts. No one could have predicted such a strange coincidence.

A tornado and the stirring words of a survivor of Hurricane Katrina combined to bring the issue of disaster preparedness to the forefront as Ready Rockaway hosted a preparedness event at the Knights of Columbus on September 16 in conjunction with National Preparedness Month.

At the meeting, words by officials and a Hurricane Katrina survivor paralleled actual events.

“When I woke up that morning there was no water nowhere in New Orleans,” said “Mama” Audrey Mason, who was among 200 families that were relocated to Congressman Gregory Meeks’ Sixth Congressional District five years ago. “Katrina came about 4:30 in the morning. She did a lot of wind damage … debris everywhere, trees falling, but nobody got killed until the boom of the first levee, the boom of the second levee, and the boom of the third levee. Then came the water.”

For three days Mason and her son remained in their house walking in water up to their knees. While a boat came to rescue them on the third night, their problems did not end there.

“When I got down off the bridge the water was up to my throat,” continued Mason. “They had dead people already in the water. Dead dogs, dead this, dead that.”

She and her son made it to her daughter’s house. Yet, they still weren’t safe. Eventually the water there began to rise to the second floor apartment. They went to the Superdome.

“Everything you heard about going on in the Superdome was going on, trust me,” she said.

Her journey wasn’t over yet, but eventually they got out of New Orleans and here to New York.

“We came a long way, by the grace of God we came a long way,” Mason told the small group at the meeting.

Ed Williams, a member of Ready Rockaway said, “Once you hear from someone who has experienced it, it resonates. The issue is not if it’s going to happen, but when it’s going to happen.”

As Mason spoke, the city was just beginning to survey the destruction that was left behind by that evening’s two tornadoes that swept through three boroughs. Pesach Osina, who represents the Community Emergency Response Team in Rockaway, was at the meeting to discuss one of the roles the CERT team plays in the Rockaway community. While on the podium, he spent most of his time texting about the tornadoes that hit.

“We have the tornado that hit in Brooklyn and part of Rego Park, Queens,” said Osina.

“I’m actually sitting over there texting, speaking with the team chief from Community Board 12. She’s the Community Council president for the 112 Precinct.”

Osina added that, “The 112 Precinct actually had a wall collapse during this incident an hour ago.”

“She’s in the process now of calling all the members of her team. So, therefore, she’s able to disseminate the information about what’s happening around her community board to OEM (Office of Emergency Management) and watch command so they’re better able to send the emergency personnel and Con-Ed and first responders to locations that are needed.”

“It was a sad day,” said Mason. “I don’t like to talk about it, but I talk about it ’cause it could help somebody else. When they tell you to get out, get out. Don’t wait. They tell you you got 72 hours, take advantage of those hours.”

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