When an EF5 tornado tore through the town of Moore, Okla. on May 20, the news was dominated with pictures of shellshocked storm survivors wandering around their devastated neighborhoods looking for family, friends and neighbors and trying to make sense of the life-changing event that just occurred.
It was an eerily familiar picture to Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), who, along with the vast majority of his constituents, had their lives thrown upside down by Hurricane Sandy seven months ago.
Goldfeder decided he needed to share his post-Sandy experience and make a trip to Oklahoma to return the gesture many residents there gave to Queens after Sandy.
“It was something I thought I had to do,” Goldfeder said. “We only survived after Sandy because so many people came to help us, including those in Oklahoma.”
Goldfeder arrived two days after the tornado went through Moore, located just south of the state capital. While driving through Oklahoma City, he saw the first signs of recovery.
“Along the side of the road, I saw all these tents set up to help the people in Moore,” he explained.
Goldfeder met with Oklahoma state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, whose district includes Moore, as well as T.W. Shannon, the speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, who presented him with a pin worn by state representatives there. He was also given the opportunity to speak on the floor of the Legislature.
“There are no words to describe the feeling I had when I spoke,” Goldfeder said. “It was just about expressing gratitude to the people of Oklahoma for their help. I just sort of spoke from the heart. Afterward, almost every member of the Legislature came to talk — some came to discuss what the aftermath in Rockaway was like after Sandy.”
Goldfeder then toured the disaster zone and met with survivors.
“After walking with [Wesselhoft] to see the scene after the storm, I have to say, the word devastation is really overused,” he said. “You can’t understand it until you see it. A lot of it took me back to seven months ago, not just the destruction, but also the spirit of the community.”
He took note of one woman he met at a relief center.
“She had lost her home and she was there helping out,” he said.
Goldfeder also met with the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Moore and talked about relief operations and Goldfeder’s experience in the days after Sandy. He said there was a noticeable difference in the recovery from the tornado than there was immediately after Sandy.
“There was definitely a much quicker response in Oklahoma than we saw in Queens,” he said. “The role of public safety agencies was clearly defined. They were working with a plan in place.”
The town of Moore has had more experience than Queens with natural disasters. The May 20 tornado was the third large twister to hit the city since 1999.
Goldfeder was not the only southern Queens Sandy survivor to step up for Oklahoma. There have been a number of collections for tornado victims in the Rockaways since the storm hit. Goldfeder said some of the schools on the peninsula have collected supplies, and the flea market on Beach 113th Street has already sent two truckloads of supplies to Moore.
“Their homes are still gone and yet they’re being there for others in the same situation,” he said. “It’s good to see.”