Utah Volunteers: Lots of Work Remains After Sandy

Destruction in the wake of Superstorm Sandy on the New Jersey Coastline. (Oct. 30, 2012)
Credit U.S. Air Force

A lot gets lost in natural disasters: belongings, homes, even lives. But what’s too often lost in the despair are the beacons of hope, like a 94-year-old New Yorker named Lawrence. Relief volunteer Dave Rosner says Lawrence was very optimistic about his only source of light, a three-wick candle.

"He literally had one candle. He was very excited because that one candle had three wicks. So he was so stoked that he got three candles worth of light out of his one candle. He was honestly more worried about us getting product to some of his neighbors. His spirits were so high just to be there, just to still be alive and have a house. It was incredible."

Lawrence’s high spirits are admirable considering the conditions in some areas. There are widespread gas shortages, piles upon piles of debris, and while many places are now up and running, a few areas may be without power for a month or longer, according to fellow volunteer James Atkin.

"We'd be in Brooklyn. We had power, we had light, we had food. The second you cross the bridge, it was a war zone. There was nothing There were no lights. The first thing you see when you get into the Rockaways is a makeshift dump that is a building Everst-pile of just everyone's belongings. If you would go through that, you'd find family photos, you'd find urns with cremations in it. I mean, there's everything."

Rosner and Atkin, along with Jaremy Butler, were part of a three-man team sent from Utah company Goal Zero to distribute their solar-powered products and help out as needed. The three worked with disaster response group Team Rubicon, and Rosner says they were inspired by their work.

"They're an incredible group of effective disaster relief members. I mean, they just care. They're just there, just to help. And they get dirty. They go into the houses, and they gut the houses, and they do all the things—the manual labor and death scares most of the other people."

Other Utahns have also stepped up to aid in recovery efforts. For example, three state of Utah employees have been sent as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, the same compact that sent three employees to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011.

When the three Goal Zero volunteers returned to Utah last week, Butler was disheartened by the lack of understanding about what’s going on back east.

"There's no awareness back here because the election's been the big thing in the news, and the media just hasn't really covered what's going on. And we just got back from being right there on the beach in one of the hardest hit areas, seeing how hard it is for these people to live on a day-to-day basis, the hours and hours that go by for them not knowing what's going to happen next or where their next meal might come from."

Still, the three are so motivated to help out, Atkin says they already have plans to go back.

"They need as much help as you can, and when you're out there for a week, doing as much as you can, you still don't feel satisfied because there's so much to do. I mean, they could literally use a million people right now with shovels. After you see that and you connect with all these people out there and see the community and feel that community, you wanna just stay and help as long as you can until it's done."

Many victims of Superstorm Sandy have a long way to go before life is back to normal. Thankfully, Utah’s very own three-wick candle will be burning until the job is done.