City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) braved Hurricane Sandy in his Rockaway home, prepared to take cover in the attic and chop through the roof if the flood waters got too high.
“Many of the people who died in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina were trapped in attics,” Sanders said. “They didn’t have a way of getting to the roof. I learned from that. I had my ax and my MREs — meals ready to eat — and all kinds of survival stuff, so I was ready.”
The three-term lawmaker vowed not to abandon his constituents, as he said government officials in Louisiana did during Katrina. And instead used his training as a Marine to survive the brutal storm.
“I sheltered in place because I don’t believe government should run,” Sanders said. “I found it horrible that after Katrina, government were the first ones to flee and the last ones to come back. I vowed that we were not going to do that on my watch.”
Sanders’ house in Bayswater was flooded, his electronics were destroyed, a collection of more than 300 books were lost and a 60-foot willow tree landed on his wife’s car, which later filled with water.
“At the height of the storm, on my street there was five feet of water,” Sanders said. “In my basement, at the height of the storm there was about six feet of water.”
It started rising up the steps of Sanders’ home, pouring in from his garage, and filling the basement. “It was a scary, scary situation,” Sanders said.
At a Wednesday press briefing at his Laurelton office, the lawmaker looked noticeably different, clad in a black shirt, grey sweatpants and work boots, instead of his usual suit and tie.
“Once I crossed the Conduit, it was like a different world,” Sanders said. “You guys have heat. You’re taking your hot showers. I took a horrendous cold water shower last night. I do not recommend it. Don’t do it. Just say no.”
The conditions started to deteriorate in his neighborhood around 8 p.m. People stopped talking to their neighbors, the lights went out and many were too afraid to answer their doors, when Sanders knocked to offer help.
“Every household had to fend for themselves,” Sanders said. “You had to have a plan. And at least five people died, who did not have a worthy plan or were not able to implement their plan. Some died by electrocution, drowning — we’re still getting the results.”
Sanders also said there was miscommunication about where shelters were located, some sites did not have food, and others lacked a sufficient number of cots. The lawmaker said his office will be accepting the help of volunteers, and donations of generators and clothes which can be dropped off at his Laurelton office at 234-26 Merrick Blvd.