Bat­tered and Flooded, Florida Jewish Com­mu­ni­ties As­sess Irma's Toll

Some ar­eas are still not ac­ces­si­ble, oth­ers were rel­a­tively spared

The Jewish Voice - - SPECIAL FEATURES - By: Fay­gie Levy Holt

As first light dawned across Florida on Mon­day, peo­ple be­gan ven­tur­ing out to eval­u­ate the dam­age left in the wake of Irma, one of the most pow­er­ful At­lantic hur­ri­canes on record.

Large swaths of Florida have been bat­tered by Hur­ri­cane Irma's 120-plus-mph winds, which pounded the state for hours on end, and rain­fall to­tals that could be mea­sured in feet. More than two dozen peo­ple were killed in the storm when it roared through the Caribbean be­fore set­ting its sights on Mi­ami and cities north­wards, and then sur­pris­ingly turn­ing west to­wards Naples and up that coast.

The storm made land­fall around 9 a.m. on Sun­day morn­ing in the Florida Keys, and as of Mon­day morn­ing, Rabbi Yaakov Zucker, co-di­rec­tor of Chabad Jewish Cen­ter of the Florida Keys with his wife, Chanie, still wasn't able to reach those mem­bers of his com­mu­nity in Key West who hadn't evac­u­ated.

“I was in touch with my guys in Key West un­til the mid­dle of the storm—I guess it was un­til about 10 a.m.—and then the back side of it came through, and ev­ery­thing went down,” he said from Co­conut Creek, Fla., where he evac­u­ated with his fam­ily. “There's al­most no com­mu­ni­ca­tions at all right now. I know two fam­i­lies with lit­tle kids in my com­mu­nity who stayed in their homes, and there were two guys in a house by the canal that al­most flooded dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Wilma.

“It's frus­trat­ing not know­ing what's go­ing on,” he said. “Peo­ple are call­ing me and say­ing, ‘Rabbi, what should we do?' Rosh Hashanah is next week, and I don't know what to tell them. I'm try­ing to get back to the keys ASAP so I can as­sess the dam­age, check on the peo­ple who are still there, see what they need, come back here, and get the sup­plies to re­turn and help them.”

A pri­vate in­di­vid­ual has of­fered Zucker the use of a he­li­copter to take him and his wife to Key West to as­sess the dam­age and re­turn with sup­plies as soon as they get per­mis­sion from the au­thor­i­ties to land.

Ac­cord­ing to Sam Kauf­man, a city com­mis­sioner for Key West and a mem­ber of the Chabad Jewish Cen­ter, “like ev­ery­body, I am anx­ious to get back, but there's no wa­ter. There are many leaks in the wa­ter line from the main­land to Key West. There's no sewer, no hos­pi­tals, and no way we can safely re­turn. We know there is a lot of dam­age in the area, and I'm wor­ried. I don't know if the trees fell down around my house, if my roof is still up. I've heard the flood­ing hasn't been as bad as Hur­ri­cane Wilma, so that gives us some hope that we didn't get wa­ter in our house, but that doesn't mean oth­ers didn't get some in theirs.”

Kauf­man, whose home sits across the street from the Chabad House, cred­its a What­sApp group cre­ated by Rabbi Zucker with help­ing keep the Jewish com­mu­nity in touch, even though they're not phys­i­cally in the same space—or even the same city, state or coun­try. (A num­ber of the peo­ple on the group are Is­raelis who come to Key West for work.)

“Our Jewish com­mu­nity is very tight-knit, and the What­sApp group is re­ally help­ful for com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said the city com­mis­sioner. “I've ac­tu­ally got­ten some good in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing some pic­tures of what's go­ing on down there.”

Co­or­di­nat­ing Re­lief Ef­forts

Chabad emis­saries through­out Florida have banded to­gether to help co­or­di­nate re­lief ef­forts to peo­ple with­out power and to the home­bound.

“First, we are try­ing to use all of our re­sources to cre­ate a sys­tem of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and be help­ful to peo­ple who are out of town and who can't reach a fam­ily mem­ber. They can call the lo­cal Chabad, and we'll send some­one to check on them,” ex­plained Rabbi Mendy Gut­nick, co-di­rec­tor of Chabad of West Park­land.

He noted that statewide, they have al­ready fielded sev­eral hun­dred calls.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he says, more than 42 Chabad Houses with elec­tric­ity are open­ing their doors to con­gre­gants and neigh­bors, of­fer­ing them a place to cool off, charge their cell phones and get a fresh meal.

“There are 7 mil­lion peo­ple still with­out power in this South Florida heat. Any­one with kids or el­derly fam­ily mem­bers need a safe, cool en­vi­ron­ment to go to,” said Gut­nick, whose own home has power. He has been host­ing more than 60 peo­ple there this af­ter­noon.

For those who need a meal but can­not phys­i­cally get out, a num­ber of Chabad emis­saries will be de­liv­er­ing food. They in­clude Rabbi Yossi Gold­blatt, co-di­rec­tor of Chabad of Deer­field Beach, who will de­liver some 75 meals to el­derly res­i­dents at the city's Cen­tury Vil­lage re­tire­ment cen­ter in Broward County.

Cleanup Be­gins in Flooded Mi­ami

In the Brick­ell area of Mi­ami—the city's fi­nan­cial district, filled with high-rise build­ings and right next to Bis­cayne Bay—where video clips on Sun­day showed the wa­ter rush­ing down streets as if they were rivers, the wa­ters had re­ceded and cleanup is un­der­way.

At The Shul of Down­town in the cen­ter of that area, “there was a lot of flood­ing on the ground floor, and in the el­e­va­tor and el­e­va­tor shaft,” re­ported Rabbi Chaim Lip­skar, co-di­rec­tor with his wife, Dee­nie. “Our rooftop was dam­aged. All of our out­door stuff there—our sukkah, our fans, our play­ground ar­eas—were dam­aged.”

“It's not ter­ri­ble,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse. All around the street is blocked by fallen trees. You can barely drive around the area.”

In the nearby com­mu­nity of Sunny Isles Beach, Chanie Kaller, co-di­rec­tor of the Chabad Rus­sian Cen­ter of South Florida said the first sur­vey of the dam­age was “like Noah com­ing out of the teva[ark],” adding that

“we fared pretty well. Our power was out all day yes­ter­day, and we are quite ready to ven­ture out and check out our school prop­erty.”

Kaller also planned on see­ing to an el­derly neigh­bor that she and her 10-year-old daugh­ter, Nata, de­liv­ered food to on Thurs­day while in the midst of storm prepa­ra­tions. They have not talked to her since the hur­ri­cane be­gan.

Storm De­fied Fore­cast­ers’ Pre­dic­tions

Irma, which re­mained a Cat­e­gory 5 storm for days while tear­ing a path of de­struc­tion through­out the Caribbean, de­fied fore­cast­ers' pre­dic­tions when it landed in Florida. Af­ter bat­ter­ing the Keys, it passed Mi­ami, and shifted west and then slightly north, re­sult­ing in record flood­ing in Or­lando and Jack­sonville.

“The winds are still blow­ing hard; they were howl­ing all night, and mas­sive trees were snap­ping like twigs,” said Rabbi Sh­muel No­vack, co-di­rec­tor of Chabad of the South­side in Jack­sonville, in the north­ern part of the state, with his wife, Chana. “Much of the city is with­out power. We are con­stantly in touch with stu­dents and com­mu­nity mem­bers, but con­di­tions are still un­safe to leave home or shel­ters.”

He added that their fo­cus now is “to make sure ev­ery­one is safe, and to help pro­vide wa­ter, food and care to those in need as soon as the storm sub­sides.”

Also on hold is Rabbi Yosef Konikov, di­rec­tor of Chabad of South Or­lando. His wife, Chani, runs the He­brew school.

“We are wait­ing to be able to go to our Chabad cen­ter to see if there is power there, and if it can be a base for our re­lief and re­cov­ery ef­forts,” he said. “We have vol­un­teers who are ready to go, so we can be­gin to help peo­ple the sec­ond we get out.”

He ex­pects that vol­un­teers will be pri­mar­ily in­volved in check­ing in on the el­derly, de­liv­er­ing fresh kosher meals and help­ing peo­ple clear away fallen trees from drive­ways.

“There are re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple are less tech-savvy,” said the rabbi. “We plan to drive over there with teams of peo­ple ready to help them clear out, as well as with warm food for any­one who needs it.”

A storm surge from Hur­ri­cane Irma cre­ated a vir­tual river in down­town Mi­ami and the fi­nan­cial district, which has since started to re­cede.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.