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Aug 23rd
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Hot Meals Rushed to the Survivors of Superstorm Sandy

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Picture: Of the 700 hot vegetarian meals rushed to the survivors of hurricane Sandy by Tzu Chi volunteers, some 120 meals had to be ordered from restaurants. Volunteers at Tzu Chi’s kitchen in Flushings, NY, prepared the rest. More than 1,300 victims filled the emergency shelter on the first day it opened. Currently, Tzu Chi is planning to continue its disaster relief for four consecutive days. (Photo by Tzu Chi’s New York Office)Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Carribeans, where it caused 71 deaths. Following its destructive path across several countries in that region, it continued northward.  On October 29th, it came ashore and brought its devastation to the Eastern United States. In just one night, it caused severe flooding across New York and New Jersey, and wiped out power for 4,800,000 houses. The double threat of flooding and fires had rescue crews rushing out to save lives in all of the affected areas.

At the break of dawn, members of the Tzu Chi volunteer team who regularly document volunteer activities and events quickly applied their skills using smartphones and cameras to document the destruction in their respective neighborhoods across New Jersey and Brooklyn.

In New Jersey’s Bergen County, severe flooding, fallen trees and un-passable roads were seen everywhere. Director Nils Aucante of Tzu Chi Media center New Your office said, “Right now, I’m in New Jersey’s Valley Ridge, where power is completely out throughout the entire region. What you see here are downed power lines. As you can see, they’re still giving off sparks and very dangerous.”

In the Brooklyn area of New York, streets were strewn with abandoned buses and cars in every direction - an indication of just how desperate the situation had become the night before. People who were unable to get to their destinations simply gave up and fled to escape harm, thereby completely closing the streets for the next morning.

However, the Flushings area in Queens, where Tzu Chi’s New York Chapter is located, was fortunate to be spared the power outage that many areas experienced, and supermarkets and local stores were open as usual. The newspaper vendor who had been out since early morning said, “18 lives! We haven’t seen anything like it in a hundred years!”

Picture: In just three hours, volunteers prepared all of the hot meals and delivered them in two groups to an emergency shelter in lower Manhattan. (Photo by Tzu Chi’s New York Office)Merchants who were still able to open for business felt extremely lucky. “The subway and buses have all stopped running. There are fewer pedestrians on the streets, but it’s getting back to normal slowly.”

The most severe flooding to be seen in New York City for over a century stopped subway operation completely, but the buses have gradually returned. A bus driver said, “Currently we are running according to our weekend schedules, so there will be a bus every fifteen minutes. It’s less of a problem in Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, but less predictable in Manhattan. So there will be a bus every fifteen minutes.”

The Eastern United States had experienced severe devastation from hurricane Sandy, but in Queens, where most of New York’s Chinese population is concentrated, the impact has been minimal. Currently, volunteers from Tzu Chi’s New York chapter are prepared to mobilize at any moment in order to carry out further disaster relief operations.

With a major blackout across Manhattan, many residents evacuated to local temporary shelters. On October 30th, local New York time, the morning after hurricane Sandy came ashore, Tzu Chi’s New York office received a call from the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in the hope that Tzu Chi could provide one thousand hot meals per day for four straight days to the emergency shelter on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan.

Upon receiving this request, Tzu Chi volunteers immediately began preparations. Zhang Ji-Duo, the CEO of Tzu Chi’s New York chapter, said, “We have power here, unlike Manhattan and other places, so we started preparing it here. Whilewe were doing that, we also went to surrounding restaurants and ordered the meals which needed to be delivered to the shelters right away.”

In three short hours, volunteers at the New York chapter prepared 580 hot meals, and ordered the other 120 meals that could not be done in time from surrounding restaurants. One kind-hearted restaurant owner, who heard that that the meals were for the emergency shelter victims, immediately instructed his staff, “In that case, make the portions bigger. It’s for the victims. We’ll deal with the bill later; just deliver it first.” United in heart to send love to the victims, the volunteers put forward their best efforts to get 700 hot meals into the cold hands of the hurricane survivors in the shortest possible amount of time.

On the way to deliver the hot meals to the emergency shelter, the bridge that had been closed earlier was reopened. Although there was no power and traffic lights along the way, Duan Deng-Jie, the Tzu Chi volunteer who was driving said, “This is the Lower East Side. The power has been shut down to avoid potential danger, so there’s no power here; but running water and gas are all normal, so there’s no looting here. This morning, I checked the supermarkets, and all is calm and peaceful with plenty of food and drinking water.”

As the hurricane moved on, powerful winds and sporadic downpours remained, thus making the air colder than usual. The city of New York is currently rushing to restore electrical power, so as to return the city back to normal as soon as possible.