Eight hundred evacuees have sought refuge at York College in Jamaica during the past week after the damage brought by Hurricane Sandy caused them to leave their homes and precious assets.
Along the Guy R. Brewer Blvd. entrance of the school, anyone who walks in is automatically greeted by the abundance of people lying down or walking around. Mothers cradle their infants and chat, while children play on the floors of the school halls, as if they had no worries.
“We have lost a lot of food. We have no hot water,” said Anne Michalskio, 56, of Howard Beach, who is at the shelter with her 77-year-old mother Irene Nucci.
They lost electricity and heat at their home, leaving them with no other choice but to evacuate.
“When you’re disabled it’s hard,” Nucci said. “But [York] is a blessing. It’s not like your own home, [but] it’s nice.”
“A lot of people don’t have what we have,” she added about the help she is receiving at York. “The volunteers are nice. I’ve met a lot of beautiful young girls here who are smart and sweet, just like my grandchildren.”
Downstairs and across the hall, in the lower level of the building, sat three teens watching a video on one of the computers.
Quaran Moore, 16, Tyreek Wise, 15, and Jahtik Amglin, 15, all came to York with their families when their homes in Far Rockaway were either destroyed or lost power.
“I feel good about staying here,” said Moore. “I feel bad for the people that died. Hopefully I leave tomorrow.”
Amglin was one of many who watched the water rise up toward his home.
“I thought the water was going to try and eat me up,” he said. “I thought I was going to die. I just wanted to swim to the train station.”
The evacuees were placed on three floors of the building and stationed in the school’s gymnasium located across Liberty Avenue.
Although the hurricane may have ruined their homes it did not take away their spirit for this past Halloween.
According to campus security, college staff and Office of Emergency Management volunteers, threw a celebration for the kids by giving them their own trick-or-treat event.
They brought the kids around to the center of the building known as the Atrium and doled out candy to each and every kid who was there.
“I respect York College for giving its campus to these people in need,” said Tawasi Clarke, York College Radio staff.
“On the other hand I do feel bad for the students that have paid for their education for this semester, and it’s getting cut short,” he added.” “But the well-being of those in need comes first, so as long as these people have a place to stay I don’t mind coming to work.”
Many students of the college are also giving a helping hand by volunteering their time giving out clothes, food or even just a warm welcome.
But there is a downside for the students.
“Honestly we only have a month left of school,” said a senior at York College who choose not to have her name in the paper. “So, now everything is going to be rushed so everything can be taught in a shorter period of time.”
The only people allowed on campus now are the administration and staff.
In an e-mail blast sent out to students on Nov. 5, college President Marcia Keisz said school will resume the following week.
One employee, custodial worker Jovelle Bell, has been working since the first night of the hurricane.
“I think the FEMA administration was better, or should I say more caring, to the situation,” he said. “I mean it’s tough coming to work for eight hours seeing all these people suffer like that. It’s depressing.”
Brunilda Almodovar, director of scholarship programs, is one of the many staff members who had to report to work this week.
“I came back on Thursday,” she said. “It was very sad to see everyone waiting around. It was hard to work without the students. I mean we all had work to do in our offices, but it was hard to concentrate with the situation the way it is.”
Almodovar also said that it seems as if the York community and the OEM volunteers have been doing a good job at making the evacuees feel comfortable. A lecture hall was turned into a movie theatre, where they are showing movies all day. They also provide video games for the children.
“Please know that my thoughts are with you during this difficult time,” said Keisz in a letter posted on the school’s website. “We want to extend special thanks to everyone in the college community for your support, contributions and understanding during this unexpected period of adversity.”