Skip to main content

Let's not forget Superstorm Sandy's victims

By Steph Goralnick, Special to CNN
November 25, 2012 -- Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT)
New Yorker Steph Goralnick used her Instagram photos of New York after Superstorm Sandy to document the need for help. Here, the streets of Lower Manhattan are flooded after water was pumped out of buildings. New Yorker Steph Goralnick used her Instagram photos of New York after Superstorm Sandy to document the need for help. Here, the streets of Lower Manhattan are flooded after water was pumped out of buildings.
HIDE CAPTION
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
Sandy's aftermath via Instagram
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Steph Goralnick: It was heartbreaking to see how Sandy wounded New York
  • Goralnick: There are whole neighborhoods that are still struggling
  • By posting photos of the wreckage on Instagram, she was able to spread the word
  • Goralnick: As winter comes, we should keep helping those affected by the storm

Editor's note: Steph Goralnick is a photographer and graphic designer living in Brooklyn.

(CNN) -- When Superstorm Sandy hit New York, it blacked out Lower Manhattan and crippled the mass transit system. I was fortunate that the rising water from the East River never reached my home in Brooklyn. But it was heartbreaking to see many parts of my beloved city wounded and so many people struggling.

When the ferry service was partially restored, I took the first boat with a friend to Lower Manhattan at dawn. We walked through the financial district -- normally bustling with activity -- where the traffic lights were dead and the streets were eerily quiet.

Like my experiences after 9/11 or during the Blizzard of 2010 and the Northeast Blackout, people seemed more aware of each other. Strangers said good morning. People seemed to look out for each other, stopping to discuss the weather, the news or their personal stories in getting through the storm.

Steph Goralnick
Steph Goralnick

"Hey! Where'd you get that coffee?" became a key conversation starter in a city where getting a coffee has always been so easy. We met a harried transit worker who said he had been working for several days straight without sleep, toiling on the massive project of pumping water out of the flooded subway tunnels and inspecting the tracks. He told us about incredible levels of water, mountains of rats and the unimaginable stench.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Over the next two weekends, I volunteered in the Rockaways, an ocean-facing peninsula of Queens that was one of the most severely affected areas. I teamed up with Occupy Sandy volunteers, a disaster relief group of young men and women from St. Bonaventure University, to help the residents with cleanup and recovery. I also joined a volunteer group known as the Rockaway Renegades that was focused more on organizing relief efforts.

Opinion: Photographers, embrace Instagram

Along the way, I met a man who had no family and lived alone and couldn't haul the wreckage from his home by himself. I helped sift through the soggy rubble for the personal artifacts that someone might hold dear and want to keep: family heirlooms, photos, high school diplomas. It was a gut-wrenching experience. I met residents who were adamant that I leave the area before dark, because roving gangs of looters came to homes at night.

Map: See images of destruction, recovery across the East Coast

Despite their remarkably dreary circumstances, those affected by the storm stayed amazingly positive and hopeful. They were grateful for the help, or even just someone to talk to.

Some of the communities showed their resilience by putting up Halloween and Christmas decorations as well as American flags, pulled out from the flooded basements and set up in comically absurd ways. In one street someone topped the mountain of sand washed several blocks inland with beach chairs and a sign that read "lifeguard on duty."

Opinion: Rebuilding after Sandy is too big a risk

Was Hurricane Sandy a wake-up call?
Lifting spirits for S.I. Sandy victims
Sandy leaves health concerns in wake
Sandy tree washes up, gets decorated

While many parts of New York resumed normalcy, there were whole neighborhoods that suffered and are still struggling. I felt frustrated that I could not help out in the cleanup as much as I would have liked. I was torn between the responsibility of my work and deadlines and the tugging feeling of wanting to drop everything to assist those in need.

But I found a different way to help when I could not be on the ground. Throughout the weeks, I would share images and stories of my experiences through Instagram. The responses were overwhelming. Commenters from near and far asked how they could help, where to donate money or how to volunteer. I was glad to have a platform and an audience to provide information about local networks and initiatives, and nimble grass-roots organizations that were making an impact on people's lives in a direct way.

It's important to remember that even as the effect of Superstorm Sandy recedes from the news, there are still devastated areas that are without electricity, heat or hot water.

The outpouring of generosity has been incredible, but there is more to be done. There are high-rise apartment buildings with sick or elderly residents trapped in their freezing homes without enough food, water or medication who are unable to walk up and down several or dozens of flights of stairs to get what they need. There are lower-income areas of hard-hit neighborhoods that have not gotten much attention. These people will need help for weeks if not months.

How you can help

For those who are interested in helping, OccupySandy.org is a great resource with up-to-date information. Its Twitter feed, @OccupySandy, is a constant sounding board for local initiatives with specific tasks. The most meaningful way to contribute is to be physically present in an affected area. There is no shortage in the need for helping hands, especially on weekdays and over the holidays.

People who want to visit the scenes should recognize that residents have been through a lot. They're exhausted, they're chilly, sometimes they're frightened or frustrated or just plain overwhelmed. A hello and a kind word go a long way.

As the cold winter arrives, let's not forget the disaster and the people whose lives have been turned upside down by it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steph Goralnick.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT