Adelle Berryhill’s son Steven had just celebrated his third birthday the day before Hurricane Sandy hit their Staten Island community. Like many three-year-olds, he loved Thomas the Tank Engine and Hess trucks, and had his favorite replicas collecting in their small home.
His sisters, seven-year-old Dora-loving Kenniyah, and 10-year-old tween-in-training, Aziyah, had their own treasured toys and clothes in the bunk bedroom the girls shared together.
Hurricane Sandy literally washed it all away.
Adelle’s family lived in Midland Beach on Staten Island. They had a small bungalow just a few blocks from the water. On the night of Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded that bungalow to the ceiling.
Thankfully, Adelle had the foresight and resourcefulness to evacuate earlier that day. Her next-door neighbors weren’t so lucky. They chose to stay, and sadly, they both died in the storm.
While Adelle was very thankful for her family’s safety, the year-long road to recovery has been a long one. For the single mom of three, finding housing, work, and schools for her children was far from simple. Added to that enormous to do list, Adelle had to replace every single piece of clothing and household item since nothing was salvageable from their Staten Island home.
My son and I met Adelle and her children three days after Sandy hit. We went to deliver supplies and see what we could do to help. Adelle’s family was searching through donated items to try to find coats for the children, as well as blankets and other necessities. Tables were set up all along the streets of Midland Beach to distribute everything from food and toiletries to clothing and clean-up materials.
Adelle had originally hoped their home could be cleaned out for return, but when we went in to check, the door had to be forced open. Once inside, we saw that the roof was collapsing and the entire contents of the house were quickly mildewing. When we came back two days later, the house was sealed and condemned.
Adelle and her children spent several days sleeping wherever they could before FEMA found them temporary housing in a homeless shelter about thirty minutes away from her home. Even after it re-opened, it was very difficult to get the girls back to their school, After four days at the shelter, FEMA placed the family of four in a hotel in Harlem while Adelle worked to find permanent housing.
Finding housing was an enormous challenge. The tight New York rental market was exacerbated by so many displaced residents. Staten Island wasn’t rebuilt enough to return to, so Adelle looked in other boroughs. She required the expensive help of a rental broker in order to finally secure an apartment just after the first of the year.
We marshaled the help of friends and family all over the country to help Adelle furnish the new apartment in Brooklyn. FEMA helped with rental assistance and replacement funds for clothing and some other items. But still, it hasn’t been easy.
The girls ended up going to three schools last year. They lost their home, their friends, their neighborhood, and all of their possessions. They’ve had to completely start over, but with Adelle’s determination and help from a minister who Adelle calls her “Guardian Angel,” they’ve navigated the aftermath of the storm with strength and grace.
This family of four is currently trying to work their way back to Staten Island. The children miss the beach community, their neighbors, and their schools. Brooklyn feels noisy and crowded by comparison.
Adelle reports that Steven, now a newly minted four-year-old, frequently laments, “Mommy, I wish I can just go home. Why did Sandy take our house?”