The "forgotten borough" of Staten Island was hard hit by Sandy, sustaining extensive damages and accounting for nearly half the death toll in the area. It remains in need of a lot of help. Along with marathoners, volunteers, aid workers, and neighbors helping neighbors in Staten Island to assist with recovery efforts over the weekend, freelance photographer Elizabeth Griffin was there from Sunday morning until after dark, taking pictures of what she saw. That included houses in states of collapse, belongings and storm debris scattered about the streets, women and men and kids surveying and trying to clean up what remained of their homes—some with messages to Sandy scrawled upon them ("Sandy you suck!!!", for instance). Griffin told us, "I saw very few people from FEMA. A woman who'd broken her hand drove by screaming, asking where a Red Cross was, and no one could tell her where to go. What was overwhelming was the number of Staten Islanders helping other Staten Islanders. All of these people are helping each other in a way I've never seen."
Her photos and the stories of what she saw follow.
"I came across a man in a yellow rainjacket, Frank, and his wife, Susan, the Sansones. Frank told me, 'I had a really beautiful home here, and I don't know if I'm ever going to get it back.' Susan has had breast cancer twice, and their daughter had leukemia, and Frank was in Vietnam. He said, 'This could be the roughest thing our family has ever had to go through.'"
"It's both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The hopeful side is seeing people trying to take care of each other, neighbors; firefighters coming from Brooklyn and Staten Island to bring food and help out. They have their American flags draped everywhere, which was really quite moving. The American flag is giving them courage and faith, and the people who are helping each other out are neighbors."
"We walked everywhere we could get to in Midland Beach and New Dorp. The really devastated scenes are New Dorp."
"We walked by this house, which was a wreck, and I saw a German shepherd sleeping in the front yard, almost completely passed out. I took a couple of pictures and started talking to a man who'd organized a food and clothing drop on the side of the street. The man, whose name was Aiman Youssef, was the owner of the dog, Samson. Youssef said, 'When the wave came we had to swim, me and my mom and my nephew, to the second floor to my neighbor's, and after that, I couldn't get to my dog. He was in the back room and one cable came down. After 14 hours, I was still talking to him from the second floor [at my] neighbor's, talking to my dog: 'Are you O.K.? Are you O.K.?' and he was barking. After that I asked my neighbor if he's still alive. I couldn't hear his voice so I had to jump in the water, and I went and I rescued him ... And he's good. He's alive." The dog had been in a shed behind the house during the hurricane, and by the time his owner finally reached him there was like an inch of air left in the shed."
"This mother was pushing her kid and their belongings in a shopping cart, and he was just looking around. I'm sure it's terrifying for these kids."
"I was talking to the cops out there directing things, and they've lost their homes, too. I just hope people really pay attention and go out and help because I know Staten Islanders are really feeling alone right now. We're all capable of going out there to help."
"These were Staten Islanders, coming with supplies to help their friends at a house nearby. You'd be walking down the street and see kids pushing wheelbarrows with their parents. A girl drove by and asked a man cleaning up his house, Do you need garbage bags, do you need food? She'd driven over from another part of Staten Island to help out. It's dangerous; people are nervous about their homes. I talked to people who said there was looting, though I didn't see that."
"There are all these people who've been fighting to survive. Half of them haven't slept. They've barely eaten. It's freezing cold. No one wants to leave because they're afraid of being looted. If getting their story out is going to help, that's what I want to do."
"This man had been on vacation. He came back to New York and was watching the news at the airport and saw his house on the news; the face had been sheared off. He just didn't even know what to to say. He was sweeping the floor and trying to clean up, but his house is destroyed."
"This boy was standing near a pile of rubble; it was his friends' house, and he and his dad were walking around trying to help. He picked up this toy sword and was kind of standing guard with it. Then he picked up a stick and threw it to the ground. He was so frustrated."
"The amount of charity and donations organized have been extensive, and we're really lucky that people care and have the means to go and help out, but you're looking at the street, thinking How can this be New York City? There were so many moments like that."
"Staten Island has been called the forgotten borough, but we all need to make sure they're not forgotten along the way."
All photos copyright Elizabeth Griffin, used with permission.