Recovering in the Port

Nov 5, 2012

As the largest Atlantic hurricane on record crossed the ocean, it laid waste to hundreds of land miles in the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic, northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Hurricane Sandy destroyed lives, livelihoods and caused billions of dollars in damage. Among those affected by the storm, the Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) International Seafarers’ Center in Port Newark sustained significant damage.

October’s ‘superstorm’ left the port in widespread disrepair. It closed channels, destroyed cargo and equipment and left infrastructure inoperable. The Port’s closure cut off the East Coast’s largest doorway to the world. Sadly, this delayed resources for those who needed them most in the wake of the storm’s destruction.

For days following the storm, the port remained closed leaving SCI without access to the heart of its operations within the port. In the interim, the Institute established a telephone hotline for seafarers affected by the storm and in need of assistance, sending out messages to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the United States Coast Guard, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and other seafarers’ organizations to let them know of SCI’s availability to assist seafarers with needs.

Weighing the Damage

When the Port Authority allowed SCI access, those first to enter the building reported a flood that filled the Center with three feet of water. The storm ravaged the entire first floor and its contents. It also engulfed three transportation vans now presumed a loss.

Shortly thereafter, ten members of SCI staff arrived at the Center to assess damage and begin cleanup. They mopped, ripped up carpet and removed debris. They scrubbed, moved and cleaned stored artifacts and unpacked many wet Christmas at Sea packages of knitted hats and scarves, preparing them for laundering. (Watch their cleanup here.) An estimated 7,500 handknits remain to be laundered for possible salvaging.

Getting Back to Work

On Monday, November 5, the Port reopened, and SCI resumed its services to seafarers. The building remained closed (still without any electricity or heat), but ship visiting recommenced with no break in enthusiasm. The Rev. David M. Rider and the Rev. Marjorie Lindstrom boarded the MV Haydar, a bulker ship that rode out the storm in port. Rider reported the crew in good spirits as they loaded scrap steel for their return journey to Turkey. Chaplains also visited other ships newly in port after weathering the storm at sea. Unfortunately, with only two vehicles at their disposal and severe fuel limitations, ship visitors could not offer transportation to seafarers, restricting their only means for critical shore access.

Restoring to Wholeness

Cleanup from Hurricane Sandy reveals damage far greater than initial reports conveyed. The hurricane has adversely impacted millions, many of whom remain unseen and unidentified. Among those likely to be forgotten are seafarers.

SCI’s International Seafarers’ Center plays a significant role in the Port’s smooth operation. Transporting around 3 million containers each year, workers in the maritime industry move with clockwork accuracy to deliver goods on time. In the midst of this intensity, SCI’s Center and its staff attend to the welfare of the seafarers, port workers and truckers who make it all happen, providing a lifeline to services available only on dry land.

Although crippled by the storm, SCI continues reaching out to seafarers who need its services. Ramping back up to full capacity will require a complete damage assessment and likely thousands of dollars in repair work. If you would like to help in SCI’s recovery and rebuilding efforts, donate online at http://donate.seamenschurch.org or by mail to The Seamen’s Church Institute, 74 Trinity Place, Suite 1414, New York, NY 10006. If you want to roll up your sleeves and help with the cleanup, email volunteer@seamenschurch.org