Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Patriotic wasteland

Posted November 15, 2012

Editor's note: WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.

As far as the eye can see, there are charred remnants of homes destroyed by a blaze that ripped through Breezy Point, N.Y., during Hurricane Sandy.

If you didn’t know what happened here, you would think a bomb had dropped.

In a several-block area, only five houses are still standing, and even those are uninhabitable.

When you look at the devastation all around you, it’s clear that no photograph – not even video – can capture the sheer magnitude of what you are seeing.

When you look closer, you really see what was lost.

There are blackened photographs, melted record albums, mangled bicycles, even a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a single rose surrounding by nothing but rubble.

And when you understand that generations of families lived here side-by-side – grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, cousins, children and grandchildren – just a street away from one another, close enough to share the daily moments of their lives, it makes the tragedy even greater because these entire families are now homeless.

I chatted with 73-year-old Marcella McGovern who sat on a bench this week and surveyed her burned-down neighborhood.

Aftermath on Staten Island Aftermath on Staten Island

She looked around and told me she could name the owners of every single home that was now gone, a place she had lived since 1968.

But she also told me about her community without a trace of anger over what had happened.

"It was a place where you could drop in on anyone at any time and have a cup of tea," she said with a smile full of happy recollection.

It was a place where everyone knew each other, trusted each other, and called one another friends.

She was proud to be a member of this community.

Then, I noticed something else peeking out from the debris – bright and shiny American flags hovering above the charred remains, unfurling and waving in the sunshine.

Lejeune Marines offer Sandy victims relief Lejeune Marines offer Sandy victims relief

Their mere presence mocks the destruction in a symbolic way as if to say, "Take that Hurricane Sandy." The flags are a fitting tribute, because many of the people who lived here were firefighters and police officers, people who have dedicated their lives to helping others.

Now, the area is full of military units from all over the country who have been pumping out the storm surge from homes and removing debris – another group that falls appropriately under the tribute of the stars and stripes.

When I covered Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf States seven years ago, I remember seeing the same thing: American flags stuck haphazardly throughout debris strewn neighborhoods.

I remember thinking, in many areas, the flags were the only things standing and reflected Americans' pride in their ability to overcome the disaster.

And in a way, the pride the people of Breezy Point have in themselves, in their community, in their ability to rebuild is all they have left.

For many of them, their homes and possessions have been completely wiped away by Hurricane Sandy.

But clearly, the storm didn’t wipe away their indomitable spirit.

About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.