When ISRAEL21c spoke with Israeli relief volunteer Joel Leyden in New York yesterday, he had just received a phone call from the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management on New York’s Long Island.
“They confirmed that there is a police escort waiting to bring in Israel Flying Aid’s delivery of fuel, which will go to county hospitals to be dispensed to doctors and nurses so they will be able to get to and from work,” he tells us.
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One of the consequences of the October 29 Hurricane Sandy has been unavailability of gasoline because of difficulties in getting the fuel to gas stations, as well as power outages that have left gas pumps useless.
But transportation is certainly not the only problem facing residents of hard-hit areas of New York and New Jersey, and that is why Leyden and other Israeli volunteers are pitching in.
“Just because people are not seeing pictures of destroyed homes anymore, does not mean there isn’t a critical situation going on in Long Island and Staten Island,” Leyden tells ISRAEL21c.
“We’re talking about devastation close to a nuclear bomb having gone off, with hundreds of homes completely leveled and thousands of people without electricity, without food, without water, without shelter. It hasn’t changed since the storm hit.”
Though there is reportedly an effort to bring an Israeli military medical delegation to the United States in the coming days, for now the official offers of help have been turned down.
However, that has not stopped members of various non-governmental organizations, such as Israel Flying Aid and Israeli Humanitarian Aid-Latet, from taking up the challenge even if it means digging into their own pockets. Most of them are Israelis living in or visiting the United States, says Leyden, who resides in Ra’anana and worked with Israel Flying Aid in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
“Every Israeli can be proud of what we are doing to represent them,” he says.
IsraAID CEO Shahar Zahavi and Program Director Voni Glick are leading a delegation of 10 to 15 trained rescue volunteers heading to the disaster area in the coming days, spokeswoman Tova Hametz tells ISRAEL21c.
The group will start in Far Rockaway and Long Beach in Long Island, and the devastated Atlantic City-Margate area of the Jersey Shore.
“Their mission is to rehabilitate, rescue, bolster morale and bring physical and communal resources in the most effective, organized and expedient way,” says Hametz. “They will locate the greatest needs and allocate resources to the most decimated populations and vulnerable populations, such as older people and families with young children who are still without electricity or had severe damage to their homes.”
This effort is being financed largely by young Israelis and Israeli companies in addition to partner companies in the United States that have agreed to provide food, water, gasoline, sheets, blankets, clothes and storage facilities for people needing to be evacuated from their homes. “We will try to organize volunteers there as well, since IsraAID has expertise in coordinating efforts that are already in motion.”
Convoy from Connecticut
Meanwhile, the first group of Israeli volunteers has delivered fuel to employees of hospitals in New Jersey, and brought generators, food and other essential equipment and supplies to the South Shore of Long Island.
“Most of those involved know the New York area so they know where to get supplies and where they’re needed,” Leyden says.
“Yesterday I coordinated Panera Bread to mobilize 15 of their restaurants to take food, bread, pastries and put them in a truck to deliver to the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management and the Red Cross.”
An entire convoy from Connecticut, including members of a local synagogue, brought food as well as generators to first responders, police and firefighters, and private homes in Nassau County.
“Hundreds of people were standing in lines with red canisters waiting to get gas, and I’d pull the convoy over to distribute Panera bread and Dunkin Donuts to each person in line,” Leyden relates.
“We were sure to be wearing our blue-and-white Israeli hats to make sure they knew this aid was coming from the people of Israel.
“Israelis are great in terms of being prepared and able to function in emergencies and disasters,” says Leyden. “Unfortunately, that’s the environment we’ve had to adapt to and what makes us excel in places like Haiti, Japan, Turkey and even New York.”
*Clearing up after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Anton Oparin/Shutterstock.com
Many areas of the east coast were badly hit by the hurricane. Photo by Anton Oparin/Shutterstock.com