Brighton Beach: Shelter From The Storm

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The streets were lined with piles of debris. The sound of drilling echoed in the distance as people sifted through the rubble. Broken furniture and spoiled mattresses framed the landscape as the residents of Brighton Beach began a recovery process that would likely take weeks, months and even years to complete.

Barbara Williams, 58, whistled at her dog, diverting him from the street, a dog she called Lucky. The dog was sickly looking, fur matted and several growths on its face – yet his tail still wagged.

On the night of the storm Barbara initially thought her cat had knocked over its water dish. When she stood up and was up to her knees in water she realized her basement apartment had flooded from the storm. “Let’s go!” she said to her roommates Patricia Caruso, 50, and Eliza Mason, 51, who were sleeping on mattresses on the floor next to her. Her pet cat and dog paddled strongly through the flood trying to keep their heads above the water.

Being led into Barbara’s apartment two weeks after the storm was like entering a dark cave. The only light came from the minimal windows inside her basement apartment. The smell of body sweat and urine was overwhelming. Barbara lives with at least three other people in her cramped basement apartment sharing one washroom and sleeping on bare mattresses on the floor. She pointed to the cracks in the walls and emphasized particularly damaged areas like peeling walls and pulled up floor boards. She wore a blue oversized sweatshirt and a black toque both inside and outside of her home – the temperature was about the same.

Barbara said Brighton Beach was receiving no attention from the Federal Emergency Management Agency although, according to the FEMA website, over the past two weeks emergency vehicles have been delivering hot meals to, among other Brooklyn neighborhoods, Brighton Beach. This past Saturday volunteers participated in a “Day of Service” to hard-hit areas including Brighton Beach by cleaning up storm debris and handing out emergency supplies, food and water.

Now, as Barbara spoke of the the feelings of helplessness and dread for what lay ahead she began to cry. But she was quickly embraced by her friends Patricia and Eliza. Lucky was by her side.

Pictures: Copyright All rights reserved by Roxy Kirshenbaum

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