A Newborn Survives Hurricane Sandy

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By PAUL VANVALIN

Twenty-two-year-old Mya attended my FirstFruits Crisis Responder Training in Brooklyn, New York on December 1, 2012.  Mya’s storm story began with the birth of her first child five days before Hurricane Sandy flooded her neighborhood on Staten Island.  Mya was grateful that the baby came 5 days early.  She shuddered as she described what it would have been like to be in a hospital during the power loss.  Four weeks after the storm thousands of people were without power in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Long Island and several hospitals were not fully functional.

Mya’s neighborhood suffered storm related loss of life from drowning, disease and suicide.  Mya described herself as the one who “takes care of things” in her family.  In spite of the fatigue and physical discomfort of having just given birth, and the fear that she felt for the life of her newborn, she assumed leadership in her three generation household of six persons as the storm descended.  The house quickly went dark and was without power for 10 days.  They huddled together listening to the wind, waves, and debris hitting the sides of the house.  Late in the night an explosion rocked their home when a house across the street exploded and ignited two adjacent houses.  Mya said she had never been so afraid.  The following week was very difficult with no power, heat and a potentially contaminated water supply.  Taking care of the baby was challenging and Mya also had to keep up the morale of the rest of the family.

When asked what her worst experience was, Mya described the struggle she felt about keeping their food and water supply for her newborn vs. sharing with neighbors.  Mya is a very generous woman and she struggled with a sense of responsibility for those in need, even when her own resources were so limited.  “I had to decide to just stay with my baby and keep what food and water we had,” she said tearfully.  She felt genuine guilt and remorse about not going out into the neighborhood after the storm.

It was easy to validate Mya’s feelings of frustration, helplessness, and fear while affirming her responsibility to her infant.  It is very important for survivors of disaster and disaster relief workers to accept the limits of their influence.  Realistic expectations and the capacity to accept the limits of reality help us to keep from being disillusioned, hopeless, or bitter.  Mya’s entire family survived the storm and their home should be habitable soon.  Their nightmares may end in a few months.  Her baby will have no memory of the disaster but will undoubtedly hear many stories about Hurricane Sandy, “the Perfect Storm”.

Some of Mya’s neighbors were less fortunate.  I found it quite startling to drive through beach front neighborhoods on Staten Island and suddenly come across a charred skeleton of a house, or see a roof smashed against a car in an open field.  Large boats rested against multi-million dollar houses in a storm that treated the rich and poor equally, though the poor will suffer longer.

I plan to travel to New York and New Jersey, or send teams from Hampton Roads, once or twice a month for at least a year.  Rebuilding will probably take 10 years.  Please join me in praying for the thousands of new homeless people up north.  The federal shelters began closing last week putting thousands back on the street.  Even if you have temporary FEMA funding, there are no places to rent.  Housing is very hard to find and FEMA is reluctant to send in trailers at this time.  The last FEMA trailer just left New Orleans in February 2012; six and a half years after Hurricane Katrina.

You can provide support through organizations like Operation Blessing, Samaritan’s Purse, Convoy of Hope, World Vision, Red Cross, and Salvation Army.  Your local church or synagogue may provide connection to smaller, intimate relief efforts.  Consider giving a little more than usual this holiday season and be truly grateful if you have light, heat, shelter, water and food.  The Apostle Paul told his young disciple, Timothy, “If we have food in our stomach and a shirt on our back, we will be content.”

Paul VanValin, PhD, is founder and President of Eden Counseling Center and Eden Family Institute.  He and Becky have lived in Chesapeake since 1997.  www.edencounseling.com

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