The night Sandy hit, rising waters forced a surprised Douglas Chiaro to flee his basement apartment in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Although he lost everything that night, American Red Cross assistance is now helping get back on his feet.
Chiaro, who earns his living as a painter, knew Sandy was coming, but expected the storm to blow over quickly. Around 5 pm on Oct. 29, he had just finished repainting his own apartment.
“I was patting myself on the back because of how nice the paint job looked,” he said.
A relative called from Florida to ask about the storm, and Chiaro stepped outside to check the weather. Although there was no rain, he was shocked to see water shooting out of the center of a manhole cover. As Chiaro watched with growing disbelief, water started coming over the sidewalk and trickling down the steps to his apartment.
Chiaro hastily retreated to the apartment. He planned to grab important papers, pack a bag with clothes and climb out the back window, using the ladder he’d been painting with.
That was not to be.
“Within no time,” he said, “the door burst open. The ladder started to float. The refrigerator turned on its edge and started to float.”
In a state of panic, with water up to his chest, Chiaro painfully pulled himself up a steel handrail and onto the street.
He sloshed north, through knee-high, then ankle-high water. He stopped inside stores and in door alcoves as a shield against the wind. Streetlights were out. Tree limbs were down. Car alarms wailed. Sand and stones pelted Chiaro’s legs, propelled by winds that may have reached 70 mph. He passed dozens of other confused, panicked people. Eventually, Chiaro took shelter in an all-night newsstand.
“I‘ve had a hard time with this and I’ve tried to blank it out of my mind,” he said.
When Chiaro returned to his home the next day, he found it destroyed
The water, which had reached the ceiling, was still too high for him to enter the apartment. A dead pigeon and a dead fish floated in the water, along with other people’s belongings.
“The ceiling fan had leaves and sticks coming off of it,” he said. “There was a weed whacker from some other neighbor.”
Chiaro bounced around for two weeks, staying with family members and friends, until he learned that a disaster center was operating in the MCU ballpark parking lot in Coney Island. The Red Cross was one of the organizations stationed there, offering help and hope to Sandy survivors. Chiaro hurried over and registered for Red Cross assistance.
Soon, with help from the Red Cross, Chiaro was placed in temporary housing offered by the City of New York. That, and what came next, cheered him immensely.
“The Red Cross really outdid themselves,” he said. “They visited the hotels where people were staying. They registered everyone. They gave out Red Cross debit cards with monies for purchasing food. There were individuals you could speak with if you had mental issues. There were blankets for warmth, food distributed, provisions for healthcare.”
Although he is still living in temporary housing, Chiaro has now found a new home with help from the Red Cross Move-in Assistance program. He has received a check which will cover his first and last month’s rent, with enough funds left over for some essential items of furniture. He plans to move into an apartment in the Marine Park neighborhood of Brooklyn on June 1st.
“With the assistance of the Red Cross I was able to find on my own a new home, which I’m excited about,” he said. “It’s almost six months later, and I still visit people who still don’t have electric or gas, or heat—natural things we take for granted. People forget; but my understanding is the Red Cross is not going to forget.
“I think the Red Cross has been outstanding in the help they’ve provided. It’s an incredible organization, and it’s helped me put my life back in order. What more could you ask for?”
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.