Descending from 30,000 feet to land at New York’s La Guardia Airport, it was impossible to get a real sense of the human suffering or a feel for the scope and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. From the air, New York looked like New York: Proud, resolute, indomitable.
Once on the ground, it didn’t take long. In Red Hook, a Brooklyn Neighborhood of 10,000, people were still without power or heat two weeks after Sandy hit.
The adults we visited with were doing their best to lead their lives as normally as possible. It was the best way to ease the trauma of dislocation, persistent cold, and despair from having lost so much.
At the Avalon Red Hook Head Start agency we toured with New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, the signs of devastation were everywhere. Drywall contaminated by a toxic mix of rising sea water, raw sewage and gasoline had all been removed. Every toy, blanket, chair, book and desk also had to be discarded. All that remained were the tile floors…in places. The smell of disinfectant hung in the air.
This is the same story played out in child care centers and Head Start facilities throughout the region. Families, small business, community centers and institutions have all lost so much. But all are committed to rebuilding.
They won’t be able to do it alone. They are going to need so much support from so many at this agency for a very long time.
In Monmouth, New Jersey, one child care center owner was uncertain whether she could afford to re-open since her insurance would not cover much of what she’d lost.
Secretary Sebelius is committed to leading a coordinated response to the recovery effort. For our part, we will continue to work with grantees to ensure their programs are capable of providing these vital community services.
And we will continue to work with human services leaders in both states to identify needs, gaps and solutions to ensure affected families will continue to receive all available services to speed their return to self-sufficiency.
Families need normalcy during times of great stress. The parents need time to regroup and children need time to be children and to continue to learn and grow.
To do this, we needed to know exactly what was happening in these areas immediately following the storm.
I was so impressed with the staff and leadership from the Office of Early Childhood Development. Among the very first to deploy following Hurricane Sandy they have been tirelessly coordinating the restoration of child care and Head Start to all the affected areas.
For the mother and father of 10, with one on the way, this return can’t come quickly enough. They lost their home, all their belongings and even their car. She told me they would be alright, that they would make it.
As the pilot lifted the airplane from the runway, brought the plane around and set a course for Washington, the 104 floors of One World Trade Center came into view. Gleaming reflective glass windows already adorn most of the floors. The entire metropolitan area, indeed the entire country, eagerly awaits next year’s topping out ceremony. This city, this area, has rebuilt before. It will do it again and the Administration for Children and Families will be there to help, where we can, every step of the way.