Skip to main content

Let's not forget Superstorm Sandy's victims

By Steph Goralnick, Special to CNN
updated 3:07 PM EST, Sun November 25, 2012
New Yorker Steph Goralnick used her Instagram photos of New York after Superstorm Sandy to document the need for help. Here, the streets of Lower Manhattan are flooded after water was pumped out of buildings. New Yorker Steph Goralnick used her Instagram photos of New York after Superstorm Sandy to document the need for help. Here, the streets of Lower Manhattan are flooded after water was pumped out of buildings.
HIDE CAPTION
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Steph Goralnick: It was heartbreaking to see how Sandy wounded New York
  • Goralnick: There are whole neighborhoods that are still struggling
  • By posting photos of the wreckage on Instagram, she was able to spread the word
  • Goralnick: As winter comes, we should keep helping those affected by the storm

Editor's note: Steph Goralnick is a photographer and graphic designer living in Brooklyn.

(CNN) -- When Superstorm Sandy hit New York, it blacked out Lower Manhattan and crippled the mass transit system. I was fortunate that the rising water from the East River never reached my home in Brooklyn. But it was heartbreaking to see many parts of my beloved city wounded and so many people struggling.

When the ferry service was partially restored, I took the first boat with a friend to Lower Manhattan at dawn. We walked through the financial district -- normally bustling with activity -- where the traffic lights were dead and the streets were eerily quiet.

Like my experiences after 9/11 or during the Blizzard of 2010 and the Northeast Blackout, people seemed more aware of each other. Strangers said good morning. People seemed to look out for each other, stopping to discuss the weather, the news or their personal stories in getting through the storm.

Steph Goralnick
Steph Goralnick

"Hey! Where'd you get that coffee?" became a key conversation starter in a city where getting a coffee has always been so easy. We met a harried transit worker who said he had been working for several days straight without sleep, toiling on the massive project of pumping water out of the flooded subway tunnels and inspecting the tracks. He told us about incredible levels of water, mountains of rats and the unimaginable stench.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Over the next two weekends, I volunteered in the Rockaways, an ocean-facing peninsula of Queens that was one of the most severely affected areas. I teamed up with Occupy Sandy volunteers, a disaster relief group of young men and women from St. Bonaventure University, to help the residents with cleanup and recovery. I also joined a volunteer group known as the Rockaway Renegades that was focused more on organizing relief efforts.

Opinion: Photographers, embrace Instagram

Along the way, I met a man who had no family and lived alone and couldn't haul the wreckage from his home by himself. I helped sift through the soggy rubble for the personal artifacts that someone might hold dear and want to keep: family heirlooms, photos, high school diplomas. It was a gut-wrenching experience. I met residents who were adamant that I leave the area before dark, because roving gangs of looters came to homes at night.

Map: See images of destruction, recovery across the East Coast

Despite their remarkably dreary circumstances, those affected by the storm stayed amazingly positive and hopeful. They were grateful for the help, or even just someone to talk to.

Some of the communities showed their resilience by putting up Halloween and Christmas decorations as well as American flags, pulled out from the flooded basements and set up in comically absurd ways. In one street someone topped the mountain of sand washed several blocks inland with beach chairs and a sign that read "lifeguard on duty."

Opinion: Rebuilding after Sandy is too big a risk

Was Hurricane Sandy a wake-up call?
Lifting spirits for S.I. Sandy victims
Sandy leaves health concerns in wake
Sandy tree washes up, gets decorated

While many parts of New York resumed normalcy, there were whole neighborhoods that suffered and are still struggling. I felt frustrated that I could not help out in the cleanup as much as I would have liked. I was torn between the responsibility of my work and deadlines and the tugging feeling of wanting to drop everything to assist those in need.

But I found a different way to help when I could not be on the ground. Throughout the weeks, I would share images and stories of my experiences through Instagram. The responses were overwhelming. Commenters from near and far asked how they could help, where to donate money or how to volunteer. I was glad to have a platform and an audience to provide information about local networks and initiatives, and nimble grass-roots organizations that were making an impact on people's lives in a direct way.

It's important to remember that even as the effect of Superstorm Sandy recedes from the news, there are still devastated areas that are without electricity, heat or hot water.

The outpouring of generosity has been incredible, but there is more to be done. There are high-rise apartment buildings with sick or elderly residents trapped in their freezing homes without enough food, water or medication who are unable to walk up and down several or dozens of flights of stairs to get what they need. There are lower-income areas of hard-hit neighborhoods that have not gotten much attention. These people will need help for weeks if not months.

How you can help

For those who are interested in helping, OccupySandy.org is a great resource with up-to-date information. Its Twitter feed, @OccupySandy, is a constant sounding board for local initiatives with specific tasks. The most meaningful way to contribute is to be physically present in an affected area. There is no shortage in the need for helping hands, especially on weekdays and over the holidays.

People who want to visit the scenes should recognize that residents have been through a lot. They're exhausted, they're chilly, sometimes they're frightened or frustrated or just plain overwhelmed. A hello and a kind word go a long way.

As the cold winter arrives, let's not forget the disaster and the people whose lives have been turned upside down by it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steph Goralnick.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT