By SHAWN RYAN
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The devastation was tremendous.
“The first thing you notice is just pile after pile of people’s property out in front of their houses so the sanitation department can come pick it up,” James Carlin of Plattsburgh said, describing the scene on Staten Island during a recent trip to help Superstorm Sandy victims.
“Everything you can possibly think of — people’s whole lives — basically piled in a rubble pile on the side of the road.”
Beach grass, pieces of boardwalk and picnic tables littered people’s backyards; piles of rubbish 30 feet long and 7 to 8 feet high fronted most houses. Many basements still hadn’t had the seawater pumped out two weeks later.
When Carlin and several family members headed out from Plattsburgh, they brought along about 2,000 pounds of various cleaning supplies, water, clothing and blankets. They also brought cash quickly raised by the Lion’s Club and the North Country Mission of Hope.
Through a nephew, they hooked up with a volunteer group called Rebuild Staten Island.
They were assigned to assist a specific family trying to recover from the storm. The couple were pretty discouraged, Carlin said.
“They really hadn’t seen much progress in a matter of weeks, but just to hear the owner of the house laughing at one point ... was great.
“You know ... they just saw some progress and saw some hope,” he said
The significance of the trip wasn’t lost on Carlin’s son, 16-year-old Leagon.
“I’ll definitely take home a new perspective on things,” the younger Carlin said. “It’s just awful. (But) it shows how people can just come together from sadness.”
After their weekend of work in Staten Island, James Carlin said he isn’t adverse to the idea of making another trip to help in the storm-torn area.
Meanwhile, another member of their party, Sean Carlin, 26, was already planning on a return trip.
On Saturday, Nov. 3, just a few days after Sandy wreaked havoc then moved on, Dean Martin reached out to a family friend in a storm-ravaged part of New Jersey, asking what he could do to help. Later that night, the answer came: Send ice.
The Rouses Point man mobilized local friends and got to work.
Tonia and Mike Finnegan, who own the North Country Club in Keeseville, took care of canvassing businesses in the Keeseville area for ice. Meanwhile, Michelle Kelley, owner of The Pepper restaurant in Plattsburgh, took care of businesses there. The ice started to slide in, along with other contributions.
“We had our first big break when I contacted Alex’s Ice over in Massena, and Alex donated a ton of ice,” Martin said.
And Marty Mannix and the Plattsburgh Rotary Noon Club “helped raise a huge amount of money.”
Within 72 hours of the call for ice going out, Martin was rolling south in a donated U-Haul truck with 7,000 pounds of ice, along with supplies of baby food and cash. They reached Highlands, N.J., at about 1:30 a.m., then continued on the hour and a half to Highlands.
Highlands is just three miles from Sea Bright, one of the hardest his areas of the Jersey Coast.
“The closer you got to the coast, you saw more and more damage,” he said. “The next morning, when they offloaded our truck, you could see the 8-to-10-foot tidal surge that just wiped out, just ruined half their town.”
He saw stately old trees everywhere, blown over like matchsticks. Lines at gas stations stretched 50 cars long, and shopping malls were turned into staging areas for armies of cherrypicker line trucks.
They started unloading the ice and other goods at 7 a.m. Within five minutes, locals were showing up, eager to take home the much needed items.
By 8:30 a.m., Martin was back on the road, chased out by a rapidly approaching Nor’easter.
“Words cannot describe the gratitude and the thanks that the residents of Highlands want me to express to everyone back here,” Martin said.
‘SUPPOSED TO HELP’
He will bring more supplies to Highlands and is actively canvassing for donations. Currently, Martin said, the need is for cleaning supplies and dust masks for tearing out Sheetrock. And he will be in close touch with the volunteers in Highlands to find out what other items might be needed most.
The list of people and businesses Martin would like to thank is extensive, but it includes Mannix and the Rotary Club, Alex’s Ice Service, Exit 36 U-Haul, the Keeseville Elks’ Club, the Currency Exchange in Plattsburgh and CDC in Rouses Point, as well as many more who donated time, money and supplies.
“It’s what we do up here,” he said. “We’re from the North Country. We’re supposed to help each other.”
HOW TO HELP
Dean Martin will head back to New Jersey soon to help storm victims. To donate cash, supplies or to volunteer, contact him at 569-7202 or Tonia Finnegan at 578-7027. Or send donations to: the North Country Club, 61 Laflure Lane, Keeseville, N.Y., 12944.