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Destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in Breezy Point, N.J.
Photo by BJ Close

Originally published: 2012-11-15 12:14:27
Last modified: 2012-11-15 12:14:27

Close encounter with Sandy

Jamie Shell / (

Newland resident B.J. Close traveled on Wednesday, Oct. 31, to New Jersey to assist with relief efforts associated with the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which rocked the Northeast the previous week. Close, who is trained in mass group assistance and Emergency Response Vehicle driving with American Red Cross, ventured with four other individuals to do whatever they could in helping those displaced and in need of basic supplies after feeling the effects of one of the strongest storms to impact the New York/New Jersey area.

“Since I arrived, I have been working with mass distribution. My position has involved primarily getting supplies to residents and driving a 16-foot box truck,” Close said in a telephone interview from New Jersey last week. “The day we arrived, we checked into our hotel and had no power, like a lot of the east side of New Jersey and New York, but we were lucky that we had water, albeit cold water. We were without power for three days.”

Close explained that organizing a primary distribution center took a couple of days following the arrival of individuals and groups of volunteers from across the country, but that it did not stop volunteers from hitting the streets and hard-hit towns to offer help to the hurting.

“David Hession, a volunteer from the Wilkes County area, and I took the Ford Escape that our group rented for the drive to New Jersey, and we were one of the two dozen-or-so vehicles that loaded up with ready-to-eat meals and water to take to victims,” Close added. “We drove to Jersey City and were parked in a driveway of a school behind their county offices and fire departments. We met with emergency management officials and received hugs and words of appreciation from Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy.”

To help centralize the mobile distribution process, Close explained that she and other volunteers worked out of a pair of 16-foot trucks as the primary transportation and giving of food and cleanup supplies. Volunteers took part in an initiative known as Search and Serve, where residents were informed by emergency officials that meals and water were available at a central location for residents to pick up.

“This truck was loaded down with supplies, and we gave away virtually all of our supplies. I believe we had around six cases of water left, so we left them there and told residents to put the word out that the water was available for anyone who wanted it,” Close described. 

Close went on to detail that she met with other volunteers at the American Red Cross’s mass distribution center, where large volumes of supplies have been pouring out to those in need.“We were informed that over the past week, more than 700,000 items have been organized and distributed out to those in need,” Close added.

The scope of outreach in any storm is expected to be wide. Close explained that she has visited several towns in both New Jersey and New York to help in whatever ways possible.

“I have traveled to Hoboken, which is about a 55-minute drive from our base and basically is the state border with New York. We saw the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty as we drove there. The mayor of Hoboken had already procured a separate 26-foot box truck for a photo opportunity, so we ended up having to do a Search and Serve with our 26-foot box truck, which is something you don’t ordinarily do,” Close explained. “We were there after curfew and wanted to get everything we could out to the public. The residents were so happy to see us. They had no power and little water, but the meals and water we had, as well as cleanup kits with needed items like brooms, buckets, toiletries and bleach meant a lot to them.”

Close described the utter devastation she has witnessed firsthand as she has served.

“Seeing the streets of Hoboken was heartbreaking. For those who lived on the ground floor of apartment buildings, there were clothes and belongings just lining the streets where the water had washed everything out and had basically contaminated everything,” Close said. “We took a truck to Union Beach, New Jersey and were told to wear masks there, because there was the possibility of broken sewer lines and contamination. We also went to Highlands, N.J., and all along the roads were people’s belongings.”

Despite the difficulties and the backdrop of despair, Close and volunteers like her have provided a valuable service to those in need.

“Everywhere we distributed meals and water or cots for people to sleep on, the people were so thankful and grateful for our being there,” Close added. “We would go into a restaurant to grab a bite to eat, and people would just come up to our table and thank us for being there. A lot of those people weren’t affected, but they were appreciative of us coming to help their fellow residents whose lives were affected by the storm.”

Close will complete her two-week commitment in New Jersey through the remainder of this week before returning to Avery County. She intends to return for another two-week stint to continue relief efforts with the American Red Cross within the next couple of weeks.