SHELTER FROM THE STORM: CUNY AIDS SANDY’S VICTIMS

November 1, 2012 | The University

Ten colleges of The City University of New York sheltered more than 2,000 people during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath – about a third of all those who sought shelter from the city. Among those staying in gyms, cafeterias and classrooms were people evacuated from homes, adult homes and healthcare facilities, along with their dogs and cats.

CUNY supervisors led a squadron of public safety officers, custodians, IT specialists and other employees who pulled shifts around the clock to keep the evacuees comfortable and the facilities running smoothly. Volunteer physicians and nurses from around the city and – through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – the country joined city workers in caring for evacuees’ needs, using food, water and supplies that the city Office of Emergency Management (OEM) had delivered before Sandy unleashed its fury.

The University anticipates that its campuses will shelter evacuees into the weekend, but it will be OEM that will decide when to end the operation, as it consolidates care for people without homes and as longer-term accommodations become available.

Speaking at an afternoon news conference yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “I did want to particularly thank The City University of New York, which has been a great partner to us in this effort. The volunteers and city employees manning these shelters have done a phenomenal job and they deserve all of our thanks.”

Gov. Cuomo during visit Wednesday evening at Hunter College.

Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Hunter College last night to express appreciation to the volunteers. Among them was the volunteer then acting as shelter manager, Marie Carianna, who is director of IT planning and projects at Hunter’s Instructional Computing and Information Technology department.

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said, “The University’s efforts in this emergency demonstrates yet another reason why it is so important to have a great public urban university responsive to crisis in our city and state.”

York College took in more than 800 evacuees, some 250 of whom had medical or mental health needs. Baruch College cared for 400, 15 of whom had medical needs; John Jay College saw 311, including five with medical needs; Queens College had 274, nine with medical needs; and Hunter College housed 219, including 10 with medical needs. The other colleges that sheltered evacuees were City and Lehman Colleges, New York City College of Technology, and Bronx and Queensborough Community Colleges.

Disaster Medical Assistance Team workers moving equipment at Lehman College.

At Lehman, Andrew Boyarsky, a project management specialist at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies who oversaw humanitarian efforts in Yugoslavia, watched an out-of-state FEMA team set up triage tents stocked with all necessary equipment outside the Apex sports complex. “We expect more clients to come, unfortunately, in the next 12 to 24 hours, and we’re ready to take care of them,” he said. Meanwhile, the Apex was already sheltering people on green cots set up in the aerobics/dance studio and other rooms.

At York, Ronald C. Thomas, the senior vice president and chief operating officer, said, “Having gone through Hurricane Irene last year, there was preparation and institutional memory of what worked and what didn’t. The key was early notification and OEM’s prepositioning of supplies and personnel, the orderly way that evacuees were delivered and the availability of campus staff. Since we were not adversely affected by power failure, our energy was focused entirely on managing the needs of our evacuees. What happened here was one of the prouder moments of my being a New Yorker.”

The colleges helped one another, such as when City College sent unused bottles of water to John Jay, where supplies had run out and evacuees had to go to useonly a single fountain on the main floor.

John Jay, meanwhile, kept getting alerts throughout Wednesday that more evacuees would be coming from Coney Island and the Rockaways, although as of sundown they had not arrived. “We’re ready for what might come, with 50 personnel from four states,” said Robert Pignatello, the vice president for administration.

Four volunteers at the Hurricane Sandy shelter site at Queens College.

Among City College’s evacuees were Manchester, England, residents Rosalind Boyd and her daughter Natalie, who had been evacuated from the Salisbury Hotel after Hurricane Sandy left a crane dangling 1000 feet above 57th Street.  “It was scary walking around in the wind and the rain,” Rosalind said. Speaking of City College, her daughter added, “We’ve been quite safe up here … It’s a nice place to be evacuated.”

Queens Hospital Center nurse Ann Sullivan, who coordinated health care at York, praised the information technology staff who kept the wireless network and computers running. The adult patients “weren’t scared, but they were trying to get in touch with their families,” she said.

Yet escape was harrowing for some of the elderly people who came to York. Helvi Visti, 78, said that the first and second floors had flooded at the Promenade Nursing Home. “I’m happy to be at York. It’s a safe place,” she said.

Ninety-year-old Julie Daly had stayed in her home of 55 years in Howard Beach despite warnings to evacuate before the storm hit.  When the storm surge flooded her basement, “I felt as if my home shifted from the foundation.” After the waters had receded somewhat, a neighbor flagged down a fire truck. They were taken first to nearby John Adams High School, which was full, and then to York. Ironically, Daly had worked for more than 38 years for the international aid agency CARE, which often handles such disasters.

Hurricane Sandy shelter site at CCNY.

Also seeking shelter there was York sophomore Steven Ford and his family, who were driven from their home in Jamaica when a transformer blew up in front of their house as they watched Mayor Bloomberg on television, updating New Yorkers on storm conditions.

One volunteer at York was New York City Human Resources Administration accountant Francisca Marquinez, 57 who was spending her last day of
work before retirement at the shelter. She drew a shift keeping the genders apart at rest rooms and making sure that children did not get rowdy. “Things are running smooth,” she said one hour and 40 minutes before retirement.