Volunteers Come To the Aid of Their Tzu Chi Family After Hurricane Ida’s Remnants Flood New York Communities

Northeast  | November 15, 2021
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On September 4, 2021, nearly 20 Tzu Chi volunteers from New York set out to help with the clean-up efforts after Hurricane Ida’s remnants severely flooded homes. Photo/Dun Lin

Written by Yourong Liu
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

Having been submerged in floodwater after Hurricane Ida’s remnants impacted New York and inundated homes, furniture pieces became extremely heavy, and often carried the smell of sewage. And thus, on September 4, 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers set out to help their Tzu Chi family members whose homes were impacted. According to Yan He, a local Tzu Chi New York volunteer, he’d visited the home of a senior Tzu Chi volunteer named Chunzi Zhong on September 3 to provide care and comfort, and found that much of the damage was too great to clear away on one’s own. Therefore, volunteers decided to recruit additional hands to help clean more efficiently. “I couldn’t find it in my heart to see members of our Dharma family suffering from the effects of the disaster, and we felt it part of our duty to do our bit, physically or otherwise.”

Volunteers carefully clean up the home of Chunzi Zhong. Photo/Huirong Li
Volunteers carry debris from the basement outside to facilitate removal by a sanitation truck. Photo/Huirong Li

From 8:00 AM until noon, the volunteers had worked together to clean up the home of Chunzi Zhong. Along with the damaged furniture and debris, they also washed away the remaining mud from the floor, and moved the items that could be saved to the backyard for airing out. It so happened that the home of Sumen Zhou, another volunteer, was just three blocks away. Zhou came to Zhong’s house from September 2 onwards to help a little bit every day, and sometimes even brought food over. 

The Dharma family’s just like your family. Although limited in funds, the moral support keeps them company in spirit. Hard-hit by the flood, life might as well be much simpler since it’s been cleaned up to be more refreshing as far as getting rid of needless materials.

Sumen Zhou, Tzu Chi Volunteer

Because of the swift volunteer mobilization, everything was quickly set in order. “There had not been a single day of rest for the past few days. But that afternoon I was able to enjoy a very good nap. It’s truly helpful to be collectively mobilized,” Chunzi Zhong said with deep appreciation. After lunch, volunteers moved onward to help clean the home of Yugui Wu, another Tzu Chi volunteer.

Because of the swift volunteer mobilization, everything was quickly set in order. “There had not been a single day of rest for the past few days.

Volunteers help clean the home of Yugui Wu. Photo/Dun Lin
Faced with a house full of waterlogged debris, volunteers classify items into varying categories. Photo/Dun Lin

Among the volunteers partaking in the clean-up was Yafei Yang. She knew that her own son’s home was also partly underwater, and the rest of her family was helping with the clean-up and subsequent mop-up. Yang said that the whole family went through all manners of upheavals during the pandemic, and now, this natural disaster has accounted for yet another trial to be overcome. However, she still encouraged her kids to consider the situation from other perspectives, so that all things might be viewed with gratitude. 

It takes nearly half an hour to load all of the bags into the sanitation truck. Photo/Dun Lin

For days following the flood, volunteers took turns helping the families clean their homes while additional Tzu Chi NY volunteers prepared approximately 20 meals daily to be sent to the homes of volunteers affected by the disaster. Volunteers Huirong Li and Yafei Yang visited flooded areas and more Tzu Chi families who were negatively impacted. As soon as either volunteer learned of a volunteer’s home being flooded, they immediately reached out to the affected volunteers by phone, and then followed up with other forms of assistance. 

Many young volunteers wished to help their community, too, like Ruoyi Chen, a Tzu Chi Youth volunteer who joined in the cleaning efforts while fulfilling further volunteer responsibilities.

I feel myself a person of fortune for being capable of contributing my bit to help out for survivors and the Dharma families.

Yafei Yang, Tzu Chi Volunteer
Tzu Chi volunteer Yafei Yang joins in the efforts to help clean volunteers’ flooded homes.

When Hurricane Ida’s powerful remnants rolled in during the night of September 1, 2021, areas across the Northeast experienced pounding rain and devastating floods. 

Tzu Chi’s Northeast regional volunteers were on the scene the very next day. They mobilized swiftly to hard-hit areas offering food, supplies, emotional support, and joined hands to clear the debris from homes and nearby streets — all the while readying to provide further relief. 

A Tzu Chi social worker, Tse Jen Chu, additionally called several long-term care recipients early on September 2 who lived in basement apartments. One care recipient, a single mother who lives in the low-lying Kissena Park neighborhood, had temporarily moved upstairs to her landlord’s apartment after the basement flooded up to her waist, leaving mattresses and bookcases drenched and damaged. Volunteers quickly brought used mattresses and cabinets to her, providing additional supplies later. According to a Tzu Chi volunteer named SanSan Chiang, most residential basements in the vicinity of the local Kissena Park area experienced flooding.  

On September 3, Tzu Chi set up the New York City Tropical Storm Ida Emergency Relief Center to reach out to the community, and distribute emergency relief without delay.

Tenants were people whom Tzu Chi tried to help because their properties were soaked and damaged, with so much of their belongings not salvaged in time, and with themselves having no place to shack up. Therefore they would need temporary shelter. Tzu Chi would provide them with emergency funds.

SanSan Chiang, Tzu Chi Volunteer

Reports revealed that a substantial number of the below-ground dwellings severely flooded in the storm were home to residents of Asian descent. And thus, working together with “World Journal,” a Chinese news outlet, to bring greater awareness of the forthcoming relief event, Tzu Chi announced on September 4 that it would host its first flood relief event on September 8.  

The first relief distribution took place at Tzu Chi’s Flushing, NY, regional office on September 8, aiding 26 families. A second distribution followed closely on the 11, aiding 61 families, and a third was held on September 18, helping 61 impacted households. Together, 36 volunteers at the distributions assisted 134 severely affected households, providing 127 eco-blankets, 124 boxes of disposable masks, 124 boxes of multigrain biscuits, 124 boxes of instant multigrain mix, and a combined amount of $101,300 in cash cards.

Tzu Chi Volunteer SanSan Chiang visits Yi Bao, a former Tzu Chi teacher whose basement furniture, washing machine, water heater, and vehicle were destroyed. Photo/SanSan Chiang
A delivery driver, Mr. Wang, got off work at 10:30 PM on September 1 when the storm hit. With the growing flood thrashing above his knees, he couldn’t get down to the basement, and went to his son’s home for the night. He did not know at the time that this likely saved his life. Soon after, Tzu Chi volunteers conduct home visits and provide emergency assistance. Photo/SanSan Chiang

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