A four-hour shift quickly turned into a day.
“We were supposed to leave when our shift finished, but we ended up staying at the shelter overnight,” Martina Brunner, a former volunteer with the American Red Cross of Greater New York, said while recalling Hurricane Sandy. “When I finally did go home, I had no electricity and I had to throw out all the food in my refrigerator. That happened to everyone during Sandy.”
Tuesday will mark the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy’s destructive trek through the area. White Plains residents Brunner and Felicia Fried, who were both health services volunteers in with Red Cross at the time, can recall each vivid detail from the disaster like it happened yesterday.
“Sandy was larger than life,” said Fried, who now serves as the healthcare coordinator for Red Cross. “It was something that affected my family...it affected everybody. I’ve been at smaller disasters that affected someone else, but it does affect you physically. This was the first national one that we handled and we didn’t have to travel.”
Said Brunner: “I was able to stay awake for 48 hours without sleep. I hadn’t done that in many years, but it's always a good feeling when you’re able to help someone and you realize the situations that other people are living in. You realize how fortunate you are and you forget how tired you are.”
Brunner remembered working at a shelter in Yonkers and helping two homeless men who walked in.
“They were soaking wet,” Brunner said. “One of the men was shivering and I gave him an extra blanket. He just started crying. He was so moved by the fact that someone was helping him.”
Fried said streams of people could be seen flowing into the shelter at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco. The hospital shelter filled up and another shelter was set up at the old Reader’s Digest campus in Chappaqua.
“We just tried to keep a tidy shift and keep things going until the national team came,” Fried said. “We were continuously reaching out to people and making sure they’re OK. The biggest challenge was trying to keep families together.”
“A lot of people brought their pets and the shelters normally don’t allow pets,” Brunner said. “We have no control over that, that’s decision that’s made by the Office of Emergency Management. We called them and they said it was alright. One woman cried because she had her cats and she wasn’t going to leave them. Another man brought his dog and he was going to sleep in the car if couldn’t bring his dog with him.”
Fried said the thing she remembers most about Sandy was the ride back home from Chappaqua.“We were travelling on Route 117 and seeing all trees that had fallen down and wondering if we were going to make it home—it was one of the most frightening experiences,” Fried said. “We train and prepare and it helped a lot, but nothing could prepare us for Sandy.”