Editor’s note: Since last year’s Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey, Habitat for Humanity has been at work there and also in tornado-devastated Oklahoma and Texas to help clean up neighborhoods and get families back into their homes. Read updates  on the communities where Habitat for Humanity is assisting in long-term recovery after a disaster.
By Mary Welch, Habitat for Humanity International’s senior director of affiliate services
It was total chaos. I remember looking around thinking I was in a war zone. Portions of homes were missing. Others had severe water and fire damage. Homeowners were gutting their houses, dragging their furniture and appliances onto the streets.
It’s been nearly eight months since Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast of the United States, damaging or destroying more than 300,000 homes with its powerful winds and storm surge. The damage isn’t always obvious. Some houses look like they escaped the storm, but the disaster is behind the front door.
I was in awe of how quickly our northeastern Habitat affiliates mobilized local volunteers to help with cleanup. Their efforts wouldn’t have been possible without the help of 760 volunteers who dedicated their time and energy to helping families through the cleanup process.
We’ve made a lot of progress in the area. As part of Habitat’s “Repair. Rebuild. Restore.” response, we helped organize extensive community cleanup in Breezy Point and Roxbury. Since Hurricane Sandy, our affiliates have served more than 130 families with home rehabs and repairs and new construction throughout New York and New Jersey.
Sometimes I think back to how it looked right after the storm and I’m amazed at the improvement. Still, there’s more work to be done. I always try to remind myself that disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint, and the people in the Northeast still need our help. Hurricane Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, but it didn’t destroy the spirit of offering a helping hand. We’re grateful for all of the volunteers who have worked countless hours to help families get back into their homes. We’re also thankful to the corporations and individuals who donated money and other items to make rebuilding possible. I’ve spoken to many families in the Northeast who vow to rebuild.