This post is from the SCA Veterans Fire Corps, who helped clear Hurricane Sandy-ravaged streets along the Jersey Shore. For a full scope of SCA's response to Hurricane Sandy, read SCA President Dale Penny's letter to constituents. Also read more about post-Sandy restoration with Hudson River Park Trust.
The scope of the devastation is hard to comprehend, even when you’re standing in the middle of it. Blocks and blocks of homes in splinters. Giant limbs and entire trees lying on the ground. Streets filled with sand and debris. Some have likened it to a war zone. They are not far off.
The people here are toughing it out but you can see signs of strain. Many of the homes that survived Sandy are still without power as temperatures fall. But when the saw crew shows up, residents are buoyed. “They honk their horns, cheer. They ask if they can buy us meals,” says Project leader Mike Madalena. “We tell them ‘thank you’ but explain as government workers we cannot accept.”
On Friday, the SCA corps members – who were trained in chain saw operation earlier this fall to thin Arizona forests and reduce the risk of wildfire – roamed the Jersey Shore, “clearing highways of downed trees with the county guys,” Mike says. “Look like this weekend we’ll clear trees from school grounds and local public areas.
“That’s Chris Zinski in the photo with the massive 880 chainsaw he used to cut up a big pine tree that had fallen into the road.” Chris, from Marquette, MI, did four years in the Marines. His career goal is to work for the Forest Service. He likely never thought he’d achieve it on the streets of New Jersey.
The SCA Veterans Fire Corps is currently clearing Sandy-ravaged streets along the Jersey Shore but getting there, as they say, was half the battle. Last Sunday, after volunteering to join the relief effort, the Arizona-based team assembled for a 6:00am briefing and within hours they were in the air. But soon they ran head-on into the same issues that have dogged area residents since the storm hit.
The corps couldn’t land in Jersey, and instead touched down in Philly. Then, it took two days to get to Fort Dix due to conditions on the ground. And by then, the Nor’easter was bearing down on them and they were ordered to stand down along with other Forest Service saw crews. “We wanted to get to work, but it was too dangerous,” said Project Leader Mike Madalena. “Debris that had been caught in trees was raining down from the wind.”
Mike and his team hunkered down in tents. As the wind howled and the snow fell, they felt guilty that they had heaters while so many local residents were still without power. Corps member Alleyn Friedrich, a native of Louisiana, had never seen so much snow before. His interest was more than passing; his expertise is in meteorology. A former Marine sergeant, Alleyn analyzed weather conditions and provided meteorological data to maximize U.S. artillery strikes in Iraq. At one point, to pass the time and ease their frustration at being stuck on the sidelines, the team made a snowman resembling Smokey Bear. They were, after all, still working for the Forest Service.
By Thursday, they were finally in the field. “We linked up with county road workers,” Mike texted (they have no internet access). “In our rental minivans, we looked for trees that had fallen in the road or those about to fall. We cut them down and moved them to the side for chipping at a later date.”
While he wouldn’t wish Sandy on anyone, Alleyn was grateful to at least begin their mission. “We’re here to help people who have been hurt,” he noted. “Make their lives a little better, a little closer to normal.”
The following email was sent from SCA President Dale Penny to SCA friends in the regions most affected by Hurricane Sandy. We continue to provide updates on SCA's response to Sandy via SCA's Conservation Nation blog.
Dear SCA Friend,
Like you, SCA is greatly concerned about the people and places affected by Hurricane Sandy. I'm pleased to note the first wave of SCA's response is already on the ground in some of the hardest-hit areas, and through our local programs more assistance is on the way. A quick update:
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has been considerable, and the outpouring of concern and interest from the SCA community has been as well. We will update the SCA blog with ways to get involved or support other organizations, so check back often.
On the morning of November 2nd, with transportation still down across New York City, over 100 volunteers -- including SCA alums -- made their way to Hudson River Park on the Manhattan waterfront to help with the clean-up effort. Some peddled up on bicycles, others came on foot from as far away as Brooklyn and Queens. "We've really been overwhelmed by this response," said Nicolette Witcher, Vice President of Environment & Education at the Hudson River Park Trust. "This soon after the storm, we thought we'd get maybe a handful of volunteers. But now we have over a hundred people out here, and it's really amazing how much they're getting done for the park."
The Hudson River Park Trust and SCA began a new partnership this year, with HRPT hosting eight Conservation Interns over the summer, and one ten-month AmeriCorps member as part of the Hudson Valley Corps. SCA members led a variety of environmental education programming for park visitors, from guided nature walks to fishing trips to summer camp programs, introducing New Yorkers to the Hudson River's many resources. But when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last week, the Hudson River Park's five miles of waterfront on Manhattan's west side took the brunt of the storm surge. The floodwaters reached four feet or higher in many areas of the park, submerging the piers, rushing into park buildings, and sweeping away plantings and playground equipment. When the surge receded, leaving behind piles of mud and debris, the park was also left without power to aid in the clean-up.
But none of this fazed the volunteers who came out en masse for Friday's service day. Sharing the brooms, shovels, and rakes that were left undamaged by the storm, they set out to remove broken branches, gather trash and other debris, and sweep away the dried mud. As the volunteers worked their way north from Pier 25 toward HRPT's main offices at Pier 40, the park's paths, lawns, and landscaped beds gradually emerged from beneath the debris.
Selene Castrucci, an SCA alumna who served on a community crew at Denali National Park in Alaska this summer, proudly sported her SCA shirt as she pulled debris out of the bushes near Pier 25. While Selene admitted that New York City was a far cry from Denali, she insisted that it was all part of the same conservation ethic. "I'm just a high schooler," she said, "but this is where I live, so I thought, why not help out here? And I brought my friends with me too. Wherever you are, there's always something you can do."
-Ann Pedtke, NYC Outreach Coordinator
Dani Thompson, SCA's Designated Caption Quality Evaluator (and FWS Alaska intern) has picked her winner for Round 3 of the Conservation Caption Competition, Fall 2012 Edition. Behold:
Congratulations to Johanna Weaver for being toadily hilarious (so, so sorry for that pun).
Dani on her pic: "I think the toad hypnotized me into choosing this winner."
Special thanks to SCA national partner Dr Pepper Snapple Group for making the Conservation Caption Competition possible.
Click here for the rules.