Island Park, N.Y. — A normal life stopped two weeks ago for Joseph Errico, of Island Park, N.Y., a town on the south shore of Long Island, when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast.
Like so many others in the region, his home of 12 years was destroyed when more than 3 feet of water flooded the house he shares with his sister.
"It was unbelievable, the worst thing I could ever imagine," Errico said Monday. "You couldn't prepare for a storm like this."
With the help of Samaritan's Purse, a non-denominational Christian humanitarian group based in Boone, Errico plans to rebuild his home.
"They've worked with me all day on the house – tirelessly," Errico said. "It's a big burden off my shoulders, because me and my sister couldn't do it all by ourselves."
Samaritan's Purse has four sites in New York and New Jersey and more than 2,000 volunteers working to feed and comfort storm victims and help remove debris from homes, like Errico's.
"This is addictive, highly addictive," said Tim Haas, of Raleigh, who is U.S. disaster relief manager for Samaritan’s Purse. "When you help somebody like this and you make such a difference in their lives, you want to do it again and again and again."
In nearby Long Beach, volunteers are also helping Amy Pecker, a 40-year resident, and her family, who narrowly escaped as a storm surge crashed down onto her street and 6 feet of water flooded into her home.
"We grabbed the animals and the kids, and we ran through the water, not knowing … and waited it out and just prayed and hoped that we would survive," she said.
"This is the first week I can actually do something to try and rebuild my life," she added. "The Samaritans basically saved my life. They took down my whole basement, because, at this point, (we're) not getting any help from the government."
Disasters, like Sandy, and the lives thrown into chaos after such events are nothing new for the group.
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the organization kept a relief presence in the area for more than five years.
Pastor Katelynn Chapman, of The Berkshire Dream Center in Pittsfield, Mass., volunteered in the Katrina-ravaged area and is now in New York.
"The devastation is a lot greater, I think, because (the area is) so concentrated," Chapman said.
"This storm, hitting where it has in New Jersey and New York, is really unique because of the high-density population," Haas said. "There are so many houses that have been flooded – thousands of houses that have been flooded."
Still, Rev. Franklin Graham, chief executive officer for Samaritan's Purse, says nothing can prepare volunteers for what they see and experience and the people's lives they touch.
"It just breaks your heart when you see (the devastation). You never get used to something like this," Graham said. "Sometimes, people look at this, and you think, 'My whole world has just come apart.' But God loves us. He hasn't forgotten us."
Still, help can't come fast enough.
"The need is huge, and I don't know how we're going to meet it all," Graham said. "It's going to take an army of volunteers."
Haas says that, while the outpouring of volunteerism in New York has been overwhelming so far, Samaritan's Purse will face a challenge as the weather gets colder.
"It’s going to be harder and harder to get volunteers to come to this area and respond to these people," he said. "So, we're just trying to get as many people out on sites as we can to make a difference for people while we can."
For Errico, the volunteers are making a huge difference for his family. They plan to stay in Island Park.
"I've been here since 1964," he said. "I'm not looking to leave. This is home."