Books and movies give us a bigger picture of Superstorm Sandy’s impact

 The cover photo of the forthcoming book Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy.

The cover photo of the forthcoming book Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy.

It’s been a year since the biggest storm of the 2012 hurricane season ripped up the East Coast, devastating homes and boardwalks, leaving more than 8 million in the dark.

And yet, if you take a drive up to the Rockaways or down to Toms River, you’ll feel a deceiving sense of recency. Sandy continues to haunt the thousands who are still living in temporary shelters, rebuilding their homes, grappling over insurance payments, or questioning their next moves in FEMA limbo.

In the weeks after the storm, droves of volunteers poured in from interstate and cross-island, but there is admittedly a point of diminishing returns on teddy bears and Thanksgiving turkeys.

So what else can we do to help? How do we memorialize, heal, and move on at the same time?

Thankfully there is a community of people who have been asking these challenging questions and channeling their responses into books, films, and artwork to remind the East Coast that it’s important to look back, give back, and even begin to laugh again.

 

Oh Sandy: An Anthology of Humor for a Serious Purpose

Lynn Beighley sold her condo in Beach Haven one month before Hurricane Sandy hit. It was a near miss, she felt it, but she wanted to do more than just donate money to food banks.

“It just seems like people do charity anthologies all the time and they’re usually really dreary and sad,” Beighley explains. “It just didn’t make any sense.”

Not to Beighley at least, who has long dabbled in humorous and creative writing. She and several other writers put out a call for funny pieces about experiencing a disaster, surviving a hurricane, or living in New Jersey. In return they received a flood of fiction from as far as Denmark and New Zealand.

The result is a quirky mix of comedic stories edging on the profound, ranging from a zombie comic to a story about a squabbling couple trapped beneath rubble in a Starbucks after an earthquake (don’t worry, the man convinces the woman to stay calm and they both get rescued).

By assembling this collection of 44 authors, Beighley hopes to help people heal and laugh. “My personal philosophy is if you can laugh at a thing and take some of the desperate sad power away from it, it helps you move forward.”

The book Oh Sandy was published last spring and is available on Amazon. All proceeds go to organizations that help Sandy relief, including Food of New Jersey.

 

Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy

While Sandy wreaked havoc on homes and power lines, a compelling rescue effort was taking place at sea. The HMS Bounty was 90 miles offshore en route from Connecticut to Florida when it capsized in the storm.

Michael Tougias, who has penned several books about actual shipwrecks and rescues, paired up with author Douglas A. Campbell to tell the story of the ship that sank during Hurricane Sandy. The captain and a single crewmember did not survive, and Tougias says the remaining 14 crew members are incredibly lucky to be alive.

“What made it so difficult was that the ship capsized at night,” he explains, “so they needed the Coast Guard to search at night during a hurricane.”

A recurring theme in Tougias’ research is the deadly potential of the Gulf Stream. “In my last three books, the Gulf Stream is almost like a minor evil character,” he tells NewsWorks. The implications fascinate him, and the fact that he doesn’t have to speculate the perfect storm is what keeps him hooked on writing shipwreck stories.

The book Rescuse of the Bounty was assembled using more than 100 accounts of the rescue. It will be released at the end of March.

 

No Sand in the House

Jen Crawford’s family always spent their summers on Long Beach Island when she was a little girl, and even though she now totes her own little girl and boy to the family shore house one thing has remained the same: her father’s mantra. “No Sand In The House!” is a long-standing rule enforced by Pop-Pop, and Jen’s kids have learned to abide by it.

But how do you explain a natural disaster to children, an event that goes against order and breaks the rules?

The question had been gnawing at Crawford, who rose from bed in the middle of ome January night and wrote a 32-page children’s book in one sitting. She had never written anything outside of law or academia, but says she developed a formula from reading “hundreds of thousands of children’s books” with her kids.

“For me I felt very helpless,” Crawford says of the weeks just after the storm. “There wasn’t a lot I could do, even for my parents and rebuilding their house. I couldn’t just leave my kids and go help, so this was a way that I thought I could.”

Her first draft went straight to the hands of her 7-year-old daughter who gave her mother the green light to move ahead with the project. The finished book comes complete with illustrations and tells the story of a brother and sister – named after Jen’s children Abby and Charlie – as they try to follow their grandfather’s rule (No sand in the house) when a hurricane hits the shore.

The book No Sand in the House is available on Amazon. Proceeds go toward organizations picked by Crawford, including the environmental group Alliance for a Living Ocean and Hometown Heroes, which has directly given $500 of the book’s earnings to a family with two young children who lost their home in the storm.

 

#Sandy

“Most people are completely surprised that they are iPhone photographs, which we obviously take as a compliment.”

Editor and photographer Wyatt Gallery tells NewsWorks that the idea for #Sandy, a book of iPhone images by acclaimed documentary photographers, emerged from an exhibition fundraiser of the same theme that raised $19,000 for Sandy relief last November.

Wyatt is a professional photographer who documented the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami, but he says the scenes he encountered while biking all over Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island were shockingly surreal.

What really distinguished this disaster, he says, was the immediacy of shared information through smart phones. Within one day, close to half a million photos tagged #Sandy had been uploaded to Instagram.

“To me that’s the beauty of the mobile phone technology,” Gallery says. “We’re not waiting until tomorrow or tonight to get photos out there. It inspires people to say, ‘How can I volunteer? How can I help? What can I do?'”

The book takes a deeper dive than the initial exhibit; it contains recent accounts of residents who are still rebuilding and lush iPhone images from photographers including Ben Lowy and Hank Willis Thomas. #Sandy is currently available for pre-order and all proceeds are being donated to Occupy Sandy to help support rebuilding efforts in New York City.

Here are some other projects that you might want to consider:

 

Photography:

 

Sandy: The Jersey Shore in the Eye of the Storm

By Asbury Park PressAn initial reaction to the storm through images.

Sandy: Devastation and Rebirth at the Jersey ShoreBy Asbury Park PressA second, deeper look at Sandy’s effects through stories and photographs

When Sandy Hit: The Storm That Forever Changed New JerseyBy the Star-LedgerTells the story of how the lives and landscape in New Jersey were affected by the storm.

Sandy: A Story of Complete Devastation, Courage, and RecoveryBy the New York PostFeaturing stories and 100 vivid color images from the Post.

Hurricane Sandy: The Storm That Changed Staten IslandBy The Staten Island AdvanceA closer look at Sandy’s devastating impact on Staten Island and the spirit of its residents.

 

Documentaries:

 

Storming for the VoteThis 20-minute documentary by The League of Women Voters of New Jersey that shows how residents and officials worked together to ensure that New Jersey voters could still participate in the election eight days after Sandy hit. The film surveys the shore from Ocean County to Hoboken, mixing news footage and interviews with government officials and residents to illustrate the importance of restoring a sense of normalcy in a chaotic time. You can watch the documentary online:

Shored Up, by Ben KalinaThis documentary, which began production before the hurricane hit, asks questions about coastal communities interacting with the land. It explores different approaches to coexisting with the shore and proposes solutions.

The Rider and the Storm, by David Darg and Bryn MooserA special look at the life of a New York iron worker and avid surfer whose life was changed after Sandy destroyed his home in Breezy Point.

Beach 119, by Marcie Allen, Jessica Beutler, and Shannon BevinsThe story of survivors from the Rockaways who banded together to create a supportive community.

 

Art

 

“No Storm Can Stop Us”A painting by Autumn de Forest at Morey’s Pier, Wildwood. This 40-foot tall replica of a painting that now looms over the pier in Wildwood was made by renown 11-year-old artist Autumn de Forest. Her original painting was auctioned off to raise money for Sandy relief. Aside from de Forest’s work, other New Jersey artists are on display at the ArtBOX on Adventure Pier, a string of studios and restaurants created out of 11 used shipping containers.

Come Together: Surviving Sandy Year 1(currently in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY)Curated by Phong Bui of the Brooklyn Rail, this exhibit celebrates the resiliency of New York City’s arts community. It includes work inspired by and referring to the storm as well as new pieces by artists who lost their work. The two month exhibition will run until mid-December.

What are the Wild Waves SayingCurated by artist Susannah Ray and WNYC producer Jen Poyant, this collection documents the aftermath of the storm in the Rockaways. The work is no longer showing in a gallery but can be viewed online.

Rising Waters: Photographs of Hurricane SandyThis project by the International Center of Photography and the Museum of the City of New York pared down 6,000 submissions to 100 final photographs in an exhibit that ranged from amateur to pro. The collection is no longer showing on Governors Island.

If you would like to recommend a book or movie about Sandy, you’re welcome to post information about it in the comments sections. We know that there are a lot more than the ones we highlighted here. 

 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.