2012-11-07 / Features

Local Volunteers Race To Aid Storm Victims

BY LIZ GOFF

Volunteers from the Dutch Kills Civic Association first gathered 31 years ago at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge on Marathon Sunday, to assist runners in the New York City Marathon - the annual 25- mile, 385-yard trek through the five boroughs.

With the race cancelled for the first time this year due to Hurricane Sandy, many local volunteers turned their efforts to helping victims of the storm.

Maeve and Dennis Farley spent the day in Belle Harbor distributing water, blankets and meals to area residents who went from homeowners to homeless when the storm ravaged the community.

“A lot of these people were just getting their lives back to normal after fixing the damage from the 2001 plane crash,” Dennis Farley said. “Most people don’t realize that the crash site is in the middle of the area destroyed by the hurricane.”

Farley was referring to the 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587 that slammed into Belle Harbor at 9:17 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2001, moments after taking off from JFK International Airport, headed for the Dominican Republic.

All 250 people on board the flight and five people on the ground were killed in the crash – the second worst aviation disaster in U.S. history.

“We made a choice to come here and help these people who have been through so much,” Farley said.

A new home, untouched by Hurricane Sandy, sits at the site of the plane crash. Two people were killed when the plane crashed into the home that formerly occupied the site.

Volunteers who spent decades cheering on runners as they passed through the 14.5-mile mark in Long Island City made their way to Staten Island to help victims in the area hardest hit by Sandy.

“We’ve been watching coverage of the damage in Staten Island for a week, but nothing does justice to what happened here,” Janice Forgiano said. “There’s nothing left but stacks of wood, bricks and household items. Nothing. These people have nothing left.”

Forgiano and several of her neighbors from Long Island City spent nine hours on Sunday, helping victims pick and sort through piles of clothing, photos and other mementos ravaged by the storm.

“The couple we were helping moved into the house four years ago,” Forgiano said. “They were especially anxious to find photos of their two-year-old son, and their wedding album.

“Every time someone found photo or something that had meaning to them, the wife broke into tears,” she added. “We are going back in about two weeks to help the same couple.”

Officials at the New York Road Runners Club announced on November 2 that the 43rd running of the ING New York City Marathon was being cancelled for the first time in the history of the race.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg, said they cancelled the marathon after it was determined that the race was dividing a city that needed to work together on the storm recovery.

New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs complained that the race would take police and other vital resources away from storm victims who are struggling to survive.

Many marathon runners donned their sneakers on Sunday and ran to neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm, where they handed out water, blankets and meals to storm victims.

Runners who trekked to neighborhoods on Staten Island said they were psyched to run on Sunday.

“We just applied our energy to the greater need,” marathoner Jacob Orlando, 39, said. “I would rather hand out water to victims of the storm than drink it myself during the race.”

Runner Marion Esguerra, 38, of Woodside, said the 2012 race would have been his 10th marathon.

“I’m really glad the marathon was cancelled,” he said. “Now I can volunteer where I am needed.”

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