World Vision’s Laura Reinhardt, on assignment in the Northeast to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, recounts the heartrending story of 5-year-old Junior Gonzalez and his family, whose home in Brooklyn, New York, was devastated by the hurricane.
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Five-year-old Junior Gonzalez sobs uncontrollably; tears stream down his face.
His book bag and schoolwork were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. It’s too much for him when he learns that the family’s laptop is gone too.
“It’s hard on all of us, you know, but we’re the adults,” says his sister, Maria, age 17. “We try to be strong … but it’s not always easy.”
Maria spent two days after the storm helping her mother and father clean up flood damage in their basement apartment in the Sunset Park district of Brooklyn, New York.
They’ve lined the street with wet mattresses, ruined furniture, and trash bags filled with things they couldn’t salvage.
There’s little the family of five can keep.
“Everyone says it’s material stuff, and it can be replaced, but you still spend a lot of money on it,” says Maria. “No one’s in any position to buy mattresses and [replace] everything that was damaged.”
Maria, along with her parents, Carmen Quiroz and Rodrigo Gonzalez, and two younger brothers are sleeping on the floor in an uncle and aunt’s apartment for now. Eleven people are crammed into the tiny living space.
On the Tuesday morning after the storm hit, family members returned to their apartment to see what was left and begin the cleanup. When Carmen tried to open the door, it wouldn’t budge. It was blocked by water. When they finally got inside, the damage stunned them.
“Yesterday, I feel something so terrible in my body,” Carmen recalls. “I was scared. I feel something terrible here inside,” pointing to her heart.
A borrowed pump didn’t work, so they carried water out of the basement bucket by bucket. Friends and neighbors joined in, but the progress was slow.
“It felt like the water was just the same,” says Maria.
Finally, they had to spend the money to buy a water pump. They powered it with electricity from a neighbor’s apartment upstairs.
With their costs mounting, Carmen and Rodrigo are also worried about getting back to work.
Six years ago, the couple brought their family to the United States from Mexico, seeking opportunity and a better life. Their community is made up of many immigrants, often working in low-income jobs.
Rodrigo works nights as a waiter in a bar. Carmen works at a factory in New Jersey. Both their businesses were damaged in the storm and shut down.
Now that bridges are reopening, the company Carmen works for plans to send buses to pick up employees.
“Tomorrow, I need to work,” she says. Today, they’ll clean up and count the cost.
Carmen wonders about their future. Rodrigo doesn’t want to move back into their apartment; the damage is too great.
The family lost all its food in the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. World Vision’s disaster relief assessment team gave them family food kits — each kit provides enough staples to feed five for a day.
Carmen says she can buy a new book bag for Junior, but they can’t afford to replace books for Junior and Maria on the family’s limited income.
Maria is a senior this year. As she and her mother look forward, they are worried about the extra costs for graduation and college applications after that.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen anymore, but that’s not really as important right now as getting everything back together,” Maria says. It’s only been two days since Hurricane Sandy hit, but “it feels like we’ve been working on this for so long.”
Maria’s eyes fill with tears. “At points, I just want to leave everything, go back to my aunt’s house, close the door, and pretend that this didn’t happen, to pretend that we don’t have a mess to come back to and like everything’s okay.”
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