As Long Islanders Carmen Torres and her boyfriend Thomas Karr recall the uncertain and trying aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, one thing remains constant in their eyes: the American Red Cross.
“After the storm, the Red Cross became the backbone of our community,” Torres said. “They gave people hope.”
More than five months ago, as Sandy approached and many Island Park residents evacuated their homes, Torres and Karr were determined to stay with their cat and dog, bracing for the worst in their ground floor apartment. They never expected what happened next.
Sandy’s storm surge was devastating. Water rushed under the door and through their windows; within minutes, it was up to their chests.
“It was like a horror movie,” Torres said. “You could taste the salt water and you knew the ocean was inside the house. I’ve never been so afraid.”
They climbed through a window to escape but the force of the water slammed Torres against the house, knocking out her front teeth.
“God, please save my animals!” Torres recalled screaming as the pair waded through the water, with their cat in Torres’ handbag and their dog on his leash, paddling behind them.
After staying the night with neighbors on higher ground, they returned home to survey the damage. Everything in the apartment was waterlogged and turned upside down.
For two weeks, they took shelter along with hundreds of others, at the local firehouse. There, Torres began cooking meals around the clock for local residents and volunteer firefighters from across the region. She had lost everything, but helping others kept her from worrying about it.
She recalled venturing out in the days after Sandy’s landfall.
“It was mayhem. It was like a lost world, the middle of devastation. But when people saw the Red Cross arrive, you could see a little hope in their eyes.”
The Red Cross set up emergency stations in Island Park and distributed clothing, hot food and coffee to thousands in need
“It’s a beautiful thing, what the Red Cross has been doing here,” said Karr.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency put Torres up in a hotel, and when that assistance ended they directed her to the Red Cross, which gave her a debit card to get urgent medical care for her teeth and helped her secure an affordable apartment, providing the initial deposit and broker fee, as well as a few items of furniture.
“The landlord was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to pay the rent,” Torres said. “When we told him the Red Cross was helping us, he immediately gave us the apartment.”
Torres and Karr moved into their new apartment in mid-March. In addition to finding a permanent home less than a mile from their old place, they were reunited with their pets who had been staying at a local kennel since the storm.
“I would not be living here if it was not for the Red Cross,” Karr said.
Today, Torres plans to volunteer for her local Red Cross chapter as a way to give back and help those who, like her, have lost everything.
“Without the Red Cross, this entire community would have been lost,” she said.
Recalling those dark days, she cries, but lights up as she thinks about those who enabled the Red Cross to help.
“Thanks to those people for whatever they gave to the Red Cross … and they did not even know us. Because of them, the Red Cross was able to do so much for so many people here.”
To which Karr added, “And they’re still helping, right now, as we speak.”
To learn more about the American Red Cross and its continued response and recovery efforts, visit www.redcross.org/sandy-response.
Photo: Thomas Karr, Carmen Torres and their dog Kane meet with Michael de Vulpillieres, American Red Cross, in their new Island Park apartment. The couple’s prior home was left uninhabitable by Hurricane Sandy. The Red Cross helped provide funds for the security deposit, broker fees and furniture. Photo by Craig Cooper, American Red Cross.