Staten Island After Hurricane Sandy: Marathoners, 78-Year-Old Runner Deliver Supplies


Below is a personal account typed from Reporter Bryan Llenas' iPhone after spending a day on Staten Island at what was supposed to be the start of the New York City Marathon.

Today, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. I went to the Staten Island ferry terminal in Lower Manhattan by taxi. That's where I met up with nearly 1,000 runners gathering to run supplies on their backs to midland Staten Island and areas hardest by Hurricane Sandy.

Runners from all over the world had gathered. The turnout was extraordinary. Some brought luggages full of diapers and baby wipes, calling cards, batteries and cell phones.

Most were wearing their orange NYC marathon shirts even though the race was cancelled.

Once we boarded the ferry on a cold, crisp day, we passed the Statue of Liberty. There was not a cloud in the sky.

I was with the first group of runners that would run six to eight miles. We docked at Staten Island. Hundreds of runners in orange could be seen coming off the ferry. The ferry captain thanked all of the volunteers over the loudspeaker.

It really was a sea of orange.

Jonscott, a Staten Island native, greeted the runners with a tearful thank you as he described the awful scenes of devastation in his hometown.

This is when the running began. I, of course, didn't think I'd be running that much, for some reason. (I wore jeans, a coat, a tie and brown dress shoes and carried a camera and equipment bag while I followed the runners uphill.) Luckily, since the runners also carried large bags, they sprinted for a while then walked for stretches.

This is when I met Daniel the 78-year-old runner and biochemist who has been running marathons for over 30 years. He ran 10 miles to deliver his book bag full of granola bars and a box of his favorite cereal. I also met Dakila a 41-year-old website editor who met Daniel and ran with him the entire stretch.

This was suppose to be his first New York City marathon. When we arrived at the Susan E. Wagner High School-turned-shelter, it was difficult to capture the moment. Police did not allow cameras. But I managed to videotape both men unpack their food from their bags. Dakila got extremely emotional afterward when a woman asked him what was in his hand and he said calling cards, and she kept thanking him profusely.

I then took a cab after meeting two photographers. Julien from Germany was suppose to take photos of the entire race, but now was taking photos of the recovery. Jane is a freelance photographer from Manhattan.

All three of us hopped on a cab after hiking over five miles to get to the midland area,  specifically Mill Road, one of the most devastated stretches of Staten Island.

The scene was a war zone. The streets were littered with trash. On major street corners, warm food was handed out. American flags waved at almost every other home.

I can't say enough about the American flags - they were everywhere. It was a moving scene as victims of  Hurricane Sandy, some who had no homes or belongings, stood outside and raised their flag anyway, proud of the country they lived in even if they lost almost everything.

One of the town's main churches slid off its foundation. There was a field of debris resembled the scene of a fatal plane crash. People's homes were crushed and splintered. Toys, from wakeboards to snowboards, from Disney characters to Barbie dolls, littered the streets.

I met many families. Many on Tarlton Street off of Mill Road. Some said they had been inundated by 15 feet of water.

Like the Hamers. Their home flooded and was destroyed by the surge, but they were overwhelmed by volunteers who helped them salvage their family photos bobbing in water near their home and in their basement.

It was a surreal scene. Despite not having a home, garbage bags were laid out with hundreds of photos from weddings, vacations, and holidays from at least four generations. Memories that had nearly been washed away were now saved. Volunteers picked up dusty photos and soaked them in water and allowed them to dry.

It was moving to see a family talk about their memories through photos salvaged from disaster. This is the only time I saw people laugh. The photos brought comfort.

This is where I met Vince, a cousin of the family. An extremely likable guy, sort of your typical smooth-talking fella who brought energy, order, and positivity to Vanessa and her mother, who were still very much shaken by the event.

Then I met Eddie Perez and Johnny M, a Cuban and a Costa Rican who both lived on the block.

Eddie described the water rushing in so quickly he was dragged out to a poll at least 100 feet away. He remembers almost losing his wife that night and how she helped save a baby.

He lost all of his valuables, including his record collection and Elvis collection. He had plastic flamingos in his front yard and pointed to one of his bibles he was able to salvage that was eerily turned to Jeremiah 2:25, judgement day.

Eddie told me neighbors found a father and son drowned in their basement a block away.

Johnny says he took out his American flag two days after the tragedy. His home, the one he managed to evacuate from right before a surge rose to 15 feet, was gone.

Across the street, a marine veteran lifted his flag. He survived the storm after getting stuck in his truck. He had broken his driver's side window and swam out to higher ground. He lost everything, including three cars.

I then ran into a French American from Brooklyn who talked about how training for 26 miles made runners perfect for the job at hand. He helped clean the streets all day with gloves and a mask.

He was emotional about the experience and said it would have been his first marathon.

By 4:30 p.m., temperatures dipped into the low 30s and the sun was dipping down. I walked up Mill Road, and families were coming out for hot soups, pastas, burgers, hot dogs, cookies and water.

I then hitched a ride - literally stuck my thumb out and got a ride from Staten Island native Lila and four New York City teachers helping out. One of the teachers was from Coney Island. Lila said her husband, a sanitation worker, would come home every night crying from the devastation he had witnessed.

She said where I was today was the worst damage he had seen.

It got to St. Charles. We got out, used the restroom and grabbed a snack, then they drove me to the R train in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. I said goodbye and thank you.

I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts. I grabbed eight chocolate glazed munchkins and a Powerade and went underground into the subway.

I didn't say a word or show any emotion during the train ride. I took out my iPhone and started to write what had just been one of the most powerful, sad, inspiring days of my life.

It was a day that reminded me why I do journalism.

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