McKinstry: Nonprofits plunge in for Sandy recovery
Jim Killoran has seen a few catastrophes in his day.
Killoran, head of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, has been involved in cleanup efforts in Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake, post-Katrina New Orleans, and Mamaroneck on the Long Island Sound after the massive floods in 2007.
And while the death toll of superstorm Sandy (now at 88 in the United States) doesn't compare to other calamities, battered areas in our region -- for instance, Breezy Point in Queens, where Killoran recently toured -- look like the devastated neighborhoods of New Orleans after Katrina.
"It was like the 9th Ward," Killoran told me Thursday from his New Rochelle office, his voice obviously strained from fatigue as he was working on a few hours of sleep. The 9th Ward was among the most damaged areas in New Orleans after Katrina. "It was apocalyptic compared to what we've seen.
"And it's going to happen again."
In recent days, Habitat's volunteers have been clearing downed trees, delivering food and pretty much helping people in any way they can (I know firsthand: After I posted a picture on Facebook of a tree that landed on my parents' house in Yonkers, Killoran offered his assistance -- much like he does whenever he can). Where Habitat can't help, it often puts people in touch with others who can. That type of service is part of a network the group has built.
The way Killoran sees it, there just aren't enough government resources to respond quickly to these catastrophes. So he's hoping those who have fared well will donate time, money or muscle in a cleanup that is going to take months, if not years.
His mission through Habitat is to build communities, but too often it's really rebuilding them.
Killoran is right about the government not being able to provide instant relief for everyone. How can it clear trees when people are still missing and communities are still under water?
And he's right that this sort of event will happen again. History tells us it will -- it's just a question of when. That's why it's so important to get involved.
While our government leaders must take charge of response efforts -- and give priority to places like Staten Island, New Jersey, Long Island, lower Manhattan, and transportation routes like tunnels and train lines -- the rest of us ought to supplement where we can -- today, tomorrow and in the future.
Nonprofit groups are doing good work. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday announced that the state was tapping hundreds of charities in the New York City area to help distribute food. That's important since many people need help.
Cleaning up after Sandy will take time. Rebuilding our infrastructure could take decades. Helping our neighbors near and far will require stamina.
The Red Cross says there are different types of need -- both in the near term and long run. So far, it's dispatched 2,000 volunteers from all over the country. Right now, the Red Cross is mostly providing warm meals and shelter -- in fact, 7,000 people are in 115 shelters across nine states. Hundreds of its food trucks are traveling this region.
And those numbers will fluctuate as cleanup efforts continue, said Winnie Roneril, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross.
"A lot of stuff is still under water," Roneril said. "Some places are still drying out. We're still getting a handle on it."
Many volunteers live within the affected areas. Others, who have come from other parts of the country, will have to go home after a week or two.
Insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and charities will no doubt play a big role in covering losses. While it's hard to know the full extent of Sandy's costs -- some estimates have pegged them at $30 billion to $50 billion in property damage and lost business -- some are harder to quantify.
So are those good deeds from neighbors, volunteers and nonprofits. They prove to be invaluable.
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Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.