Many Guyanese homes affected in Hurricane Sandy

Dear Editor,

Regarding your news item, ‘New York Guyanese grappling with Sandy aftermath‘ (SN, Nov 5), the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy can never be documented. Devastation is an underestimation. Every ethnic group and every neighbourhood was affected. Some were more affected by the storm than others. Virtually every Guyanese I spoke with said it was a frightening experience.

Initially, I thought Guyanese Americans suffered minor damage based on conversations I had.  But having surveyed various areas travelling around where Guyanese are settled in Queens and speaking with them, I learnt that many, many homes were affected. Some homes were completely washed away while others were flooded and will have to be torn down and reconstructed.  My home was not affected but several homes in my neighbourhood were destroyed by uprooted trees or broken limbs and downed electric wires.

In Queens, Guyanese are clustered in greater numbers in Richmond Hill, Jamaica, Hollis/Queens Village, St Albans, Howard Beach, Lindenwood and Far Rockaway, etc.  In Brooklyn, Guyanese are clustered in Cypress Hills, Flatbush, etc.  Of all the areas, Guyanese in Far Rockaway, a remote part of Queens, seemed to have suffered the greatest damage, with  houses, apartments, and cars damaged.  It was like a war zone – completely flattened.  Virtually no home or its furniture can be salvaged. Flooding was the major cause of the damage followed by downed trees that knocked off electric power.  Many homes in Richmond Hill and Cypress Hills lost power for days.  In some areas, Guyanese (and indeed other nationalities) are still without power.

What stood out among Guyanese was the assistance they received from family and friends.

Virtually every affected Guyanese – hundreds if not thousands of them whose homes were destroyed or lost electric power bunked – with families and friends. For this, I applaud every Guyanese who provided assistance to others.

Very few Guyanese ended up at evacuation shelters. I volunteered at one shelter and only one Indo-Guyanese woman married to a Sri Lankan was there with their two kids evacuated from Far Rockaway. Later in the week, a family with three kids from Upper Cortentyne sought shelter.

Colleagues who volunteered at John Adams said they did not see any Guyanese at the shelter, but noted a few Guyanese medics and nurses assigned by area hospitals to aid the evacuees.

At the shelter where I volunteered, Punjabi Sikhs were the first to respond with warm meals for the more than 700 evacuees on Monday night, repeated on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This was followed by other West Indians (Jamaicans) who donated hot meals for dinner. Other communities also provided food.  Guyanese from Richmond Hill did not respond until Sunday evening. Several members of a family from the East Coast bought food that was distributed to the evacuees. It was disappointing that more Guyanese did not respond aiding the evacuees with meals.

But food was not a serious problem for the many evacuees.

The greatest challenge facing everyone after the storm was gas to fuel vehicles. There has been a shortage everywhere with long lines. Lining up for gas, Guyanese can be overheard comparing their experience with gas shortages in Guyana during the 1970s and 1980s under Burnham.

Another storm is brewing and it will be sure to have a serious impact on Guyanese Americans and I am sure that Guyanese will respond with warmth and kindness.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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