Published on November 3rd, 2012 | by Charu Suri3
How Social Media Is Helping Hurricane Sandy Victims
I remember that Monday afternoon as vividly as I do a Jackson Pollock painting. The wind picked up with such alarming speed I thought a supersonic jet was whizzing above our heads. The baby’s crib was right by the window, a few feet away from a young tree whose branches intersected a telephone pole crammed with wires. I knew that if that tree crashed into our house, it would be disaster, to say the least, and so we moved baby and crib well away from the window into the deep depths of the living room.
We couldn’t believe the stuff we were reading on the news: the entire evening felt surreal. We live next door to an Emergency Medical Service station, and rescue workers battled rain and gusting winds throughout the night to field emergency calls. I peeked out the window every five minutes, making sure the tree was intact and there were no messed up live wires.
Hurricane Sandy left me, my husband, my infant daughter Erika and our au pair completely displaced and helpless. An invisible guardian angel was watching over the roof, which my tenant swears shook like pieces of Scrabble. I felt that the lanky pole with its swath of wires would fall on the house at any moment. Unfortunately for some people in New York State, trees did collapse. But luckily for us, our house escaped without a scratch.
My heart went out to those who had lost lives during the storm. Our neighbors were not that lucky: some had awnings blown off that tumbled onto parked cars and the streets. Some lost balconies. A few people lost lives too precious to mention when trees crashed into their homes.
Gusting winds in Weehawken post Hurricane Sandy
Right across the river, we saw a pitch black Manhattan the following evening as electricity was suspended for some 220,000 people below 39th street. The entire downtown portion of the city looked like a dark, black limb –quite a contrast to the sparkling champagne-like place I knew and loved.
Over the next few days, we heard so many heartbreaking stories that all I wanted to do was to turn off the news and hope that it was a bad dream. President Obama promised a “no red tape, no delays” approached to distributing aid to the hurricane’s victims, but when Thursday and Friday rolled around, residents in critically affected areas –especially Staten Island—had received barely any help, and most of it only from the Red Cross.
My town of Weehawken, NJ suffered some minor damage but some people lost roofs, tiles and awnings
Some of the delay seems to be with costs associated with allowing union workers to help the battered states (non-union electrical workers are not allowed into New Jersey, for example).
The idea that no red tape should exist is such wishful thinking: Social Media came to the rescue once again with many people relying on the kindness of strangers and neighbors and friends. I learned more about where to go and help through Social Media than any other methods.
Here are some ways Social Media made an impact in the aftermath of Sandy:
- New Yorkers used Twitter to find out if other neighbors got electricity back on (e.g. @siobhang tweeted “Can someone confirm for me if there is power on Houston Street? #Sandy@ConEdison);
- In Staten Island, arguably the most affected New York City burrough, Social Media channels were what residents and volunteers used to mobilize help and ask for donations that were critically important to lives who needed instant help;
- In the storm’s aftermath, the Newark mayor Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) has been tweeting non-stop, offering updates on power outages, calming frazzled constituents and checking up on those in need;
- The Twitter account of FDNY, run by Emily Rahimi, proved to be a lifeline for many;
- Individuals on Facebook are posting pictures of where they need help the most, and connecting with friends to ask for donations and supplies;
- With landlines unavailable in many places, Social Media channels were what concerned friends and family monitored for news about their loved ones.
While donating to the Red Cross is a way of giving, many social media feeds point out that these supplies are heavily delayed and people need food and clothing immediately and cannot afford to wait for a few days. If you see someone who needs help, lend a hand. Every bit counts. Check out the Twitter feeds of the FDNY, Red Cross and individual friends’ accounts with hashtag #sandy to see how you can help.