DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN – “Please excuse me, I just came from the hospital. My daughter, 11-years-old, had a nervous breakdown because I was talking to somebody about Hurricane Sandy. My daughter was only six years old. I almost lost my daughter,” said Rachel Rivera, a Brooklynite.
Thousands of people gathered on Saturday, October 28 to march against climate change, to denounce the current presidential administration’s climate denial agenda, and to urge local politicians to do more.
Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of the devastating hurricane that hit Brooklyn on October 29, 2012. People filled Cadman Plaza Park to chant and show their support for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and other climate related incidents, at the event organized by 350.org, a coalition of 110 organizations, advocating for environmental accountability.
“We’re putting this together for our communities who are still out of homes, who are still experiencing damage to their homes five year later from Sandy, and inadequate response from the state and NYC in regards to climate preparedness in case another hurricane happens,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, an organizer at 350.org told us at the event.
“Given recent climate impacts considering Hurricane Maria and Harvey, we know that climate change is here, it’s happening, and our city is not adequately prepared. And so we’re here to call on Mayor de Blasio, Senator Schumer, and Governor Cuomo to step up for our communities.”
Among the many speakers who were deeply affected by Hurricane Sandy, was Rachel Rivera, a member of NY Communities for Change, an organization fighting against economic and racial oppression. She told her perspective of what went down the night of Superstorm Sandy–and found it impossible to hold back her tears when she did so.
Rivera, a single mom of six kids, lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Her home was not in the red-zone area, therefore she did not have to evacuate.
“I heard a cracking noise, and I got scared. I took my daughter out of her bed, and then the ceiling caved in,” Rivera said.
Five years later and her daughter still goes to therapy.
“She cries to me every time it rains hard, asking me, ‘Mommy, is it going to happen again? Are we going to live? Are we going to die?’” She said.
Her cries were met with support, people cheering her on.
“I’m here as a mother, fighting for this cause. I lost everything from photos to everything else an apartment has, memories. I almost lost my child,” she said. “And I’m here being displaced to this day, lived a nightmare with my daughter to this day. And it’s hard even five years later, we’re still struggling.”
Eddie Bautista, the executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, called for a moment of silence for “victims of Sandy and all cataclysms,” he said.
He then criticized Donald Trump, urging people to realize the importance of standing up.
“[The] climate denier-in-chief presents a clear present danger, not just for the US but for the world; dismantling the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), removing even mention of climate change from sciences– this is an outright assault,” Bautista said. “That’s why it’s important for us to be here today; every time we stand up we send a message that these regressive policies will not stand.”
Many of the survivors of Sandy had an opportunity and platform to speak on stage, others chose to remain in the crowd.
Like Frank Hopson, who had two homes that Superstorm Sandy swept in her path – one in New Jersey and the other on Long Island. To this day, he is still repairing them.
“It’s because of insurance. It was a second home, so FEMA doesn’t help you if it’s a second home. I have to do it on my own,” he said.
“I got flooded from the basement to the second floor. The living room was in the kitchen, the kitchen was in the living room, the bedroom was in the next bedroom,” he said of his NJ home. “It just looked like a crazy person had come in threw everything all over the place. And then I was told that I had to strip everything out in a week, because they were afraid that black mold was going to start to develop.”
We asked him what he wants the government to do. To which he responded with a chuckle, “Oh God. Where do I start?”
“I want them to take care of the people who were destroyed. A lot of my neighbors are in the same fix I’m in. They’re still trying to rebuild. Some of them are never going to rebuild, they sold their properties,” he said. “And I know already people say we shouldn’t be living as close to the waters as we do; but for those who do, there should be some type of protection.”
Hopson finds it very difficult to look at the news and hear about Hurricane Harvey, Maria, and Irma. He says it’s hard because he knows how much it hurts and is still not over Sandy.
“I’ve been a photographer for 30 years. I used to shoot film,” Hopson said. “I had pictures stored in my Jersey home of my parents who are no longer here, my children when they were babies, so all those memories I lost. And I can never get that back.”
The march, led by young people of color, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to the ball field at the Alfred E. Smith Houses on Robert F. Wagner Sr. Place.
Organizers, marchers, and survivors of the hurricanes hope that the government can take action to fight the climate crisis. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Chuck Schumer, and President Trump were repeatedly called out during the gathering and march.
“We demand that our elected officials take the urgently needed actions to move us off of fossil fuels and into a renewable energy community,” said a statement from Sandy5.org.
“As all the attention shifts to the next hurricane, we keep forgetting the victims from the last one,” Rivera said. “Victims like myself, my family, people we’ve lost, the elderly, the young. We cannot forget them.”
Though it’s been five years, Brooklyn is still hurting.