Storm surge from Hurricane Sandy results in debris of all sorts on Coney Island and other borough streets in New York City. Thousands of homes were flooded and 132 people died in the hurricane that caused power outages in 17 states, affecting more than 8 million homes.
Quincy High School graduate David Giller recently completed a stint helping Superstorm Sandy victims in New York. Giller, an immigration service officer level 2 in Tampa, Fla., assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Giller answered questions and sent photos of the damages suffered by the devastating hurricane that occurred Oct. 29, 2012.
Q: When did you go to help out?
A: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a program called SURGE, in which employees of the USCIS can take online courses and then pass the test. Once that is completed, they are listed as active and put on the list to be called in the event of a disaster.
Since I was on the volunteer list, I was called up and told to report to Emmittsburg, Md., on Nov. 10, 2012, for a quick FEMA training and then on to Fort Dix, N.J., for further training and equipment issuances. I was then assigned to be stationed in the Bronx, on board the Empire State (a training ship for the Merchant Marines). I was assigned there until Dec. 20, 2012.
Q: Why did you go — what motivated you?
A: Since I assisted before with Hurricane Katrina, I thought it might be good to do it again and provide my experiences to the new volunteers. It also gave me a chance to help those that had been affected by the hurricane.
Q: What jobs did you do?
A: I worked as an individual assistance specialist. What that does is when a person files a claim with FEMA, that individual can come into DRC (Disaster Recovery Center) and check the status of the claim. They see me or another IAS. We review the claim and see where the processing is at.
Q: What are your impressions of the aftermath of the storm?
A: I saw what Hurricane Katrina can do to a city, but this is NYC. They have been through so much and always find a way to fight back. The main impacted areas were Far Rockaway, Breezy Point, Long Beach, Long Island and Staten Island. Many other areas were affected, but I was not assigned there, so I can’t speak about it, only what I heard.
Q: How do you think the storm victims are coping with the damage to their property?
A: The victims lost everything; most of the homes were flooded. The major problem is that these homes have boilers that are located in the basement. The basement gets flooded and then the boiler is destroyed. Then there’s no heat, hot water, even electricity.
Many times, people would come in crying and the best you could do is console them. It is very difficult to tell someone that everything is going to be OK when they just lost their home and all of their belongs. Some of these people’s cars ended up in the East River or other rivers, for that matter. I spoke to one lady who lived in Long Island, but her car ended up in New Jersey.
Q: What was the best thing about your trip?
A: Well, the best part about the trip has to be the fact that you know you’re helping people, even if they think you’re not. You have to believe and have faith that you’re making a difference just by giving your time to come there.
Q: What was the worst thing about your trip?
A: The worst was the hours. You’re working 12-hour days seven days a week. Yes, you get a day off here and there. But for the majority of the time you’re working 6:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. I would also say the traffic. There was a lot of traffic.
Giller’s parents are retired and still live in Quincy. He recently moved to Florida to take a better position in Homeland Security.
Giller graduated from QHS in 1989 and Feather River College in 1992. He went to the University of Nevada, Reno and graduated in 1996.
Giller joined the U.S. Navy and spent four years on the USS Abraham Lincoln as an operational specialist. He was honorably discharged in 2001. He applied for a job as an immigration officer with the INS, and worked in San Jose for 11 years before moving to Tampa in September 2012.
Giller had been in Tampa only a month when Superstorm Sandy hit. He currently interviews permanent residents, for example, green-card holders, who have filed applications to become U.S. citizens. He gives them the Naturalization Test and reviews their Naturalization Application.
In closing, Giller said, “What I find so amazing was that the people of New York are strong-willed and have the fortitude to be able to survive after losing so much. They always find a way to keeping moving forward in the face of disaster. I can tell you this: it will be a long time, possibly years, before the areas that were affected are back to normal.”
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