When the lights went out, they found community

When the lights went out, they found community

Coping under stress

Marla Cohen is a freelance writer. She lives in Rockland County.

Losing power is tough. For Andrea Rich, however, it posed enormous difficulties.

The family lost power on Sunday and only a few trees fell on their property. Inconvenience was not the issue for the family, however. Rich and her husband, Royce, care for their profoundly disabled 26-year-old daughter, June, who needs ’round-the-clock care that includes a platform elevator installed in their New City raised ranch, and a bed lift. June’s food must be processed, so that she can swallow it.

“We can’t go anywhere without care for June,” said Rich. “I have a van to bring her places. It becomes more difficult when you can’t go anywhere. If we wanted to go for dinner, we couldn’t. It was just whatever we had in the house. We tried to prepare for the storm as best we can, so we were kind of stuck. We really were not mobile.”

As the days dragged on, Rich began to worry that she could not bathe her daughter. She tried finding a respite care center for her, but the only one available was in Pinebush, N.Y., about an hour away. Rich worried that with long lines for gasoline and the rationing, getting to and from Pinebush could become a problem.

“The gas issues! Oh my God, we’ll get her up there and we won’t be able to get her back,” Rich worried.

The family was finally able to get into a hotel in Nanuet. They still had to lift June and they were marooned in the hotel, Rich said, but “they made it work for us.”

Bari and Jordan Lewart lost four trees on their property. The first came down on the driveway. “I was clearing debris and not five minutes later, a huge oak tree fell right where I had been standing,” he said.

Two more fell like dominos, one knocking into the other, and then, into the 112-year-old house the Lewarts live in with their nine-year-old son, Sam. Bari was watching from the window when she saw the larger one “fall toward my house. It was surreal. No sooner did I start screaming, ‘It’s coming!’ then it came in.

“It was like a cartoon: Crash! Boom! Bang! With the starburst, very much overhead, like surround sound,” she said.

The tree broke through the roof, cracking the house walls. And while the Lewarts have repaired the roof enough to make the house liveable, they will have to move out for two to three months after the new year, while the roof is repaired and the walls are winched back together.

“The amount of support and care in our community, so many friends opening their house to us,” said Bari. “It’s heartwarming at a time you feel so vulnerable.”

Amy Morlevi’s family lived in Valley View Gardens, an apartment complex off of Route 59 in Monsey until they lost power.

But they won’t be going back.

They were staying with her husband Arik’s brother in Pomona, along with their two small children, Haley, 3, and Elan, 6, when they got a text message form a neighbor, “There’s a major fire in the unit above you.”

The couple raced to their home. But half a mile away, the smoke was already choking them. “It was so bad. You could see it, you could smell it,” said Morlevi.

“There were about 100 people outside, and I could see 10 or so fire trucks. It was surreal to think, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is my house on fire.’ I started to break down.”

The following day, they were able to go inside to assess the damage. “It was pretty grim,” said Morlevi. “Everything was either smoke- or water-damaged. There’s a big hole in my dining room floor…My ketubah has some damage. We were able to save it, but we might have to get it reprinted.”

The building has been condemned and 24 units were affected. The uncertainty of not having a home – right now the family is living with her mother- and father-in-law – has been tough. “Being displaced is very difficult,” she said. “My in-laws have been very welcoming, but you want your own place.”

Through it all, Morlevi says that the Rockland Jewish Academy, where her son attends first grade, has offered solace and assistance.

“The RJA people have been amazing, amazing. They embraced us as part of the Jewish community, have given us meals, money. It’s been amazing. I can never thank them enough. I feel so blessed to be part of that community right now.”

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