Muslims’ Role in Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts



 
Though its winds have long died down, the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy are still palpable throughout the northeast. Homes have been completely destroyed, cars remain overturned or crushed beneath fallen trees, and thousands are still struggling to find food and shelter.
But since the hurricane swept through the region last month, ICNA Relief Disaster Relief Services has been leading recovery efforts on the ground.

“Can you imagine the time it takes to pump 6 feet of water from a basement with a small pump, or to get hot meals to an elderly lady on the 19th floor of a building with no working elevator?” asks Umber Siddiqi, a staff member of ICNA Relief. “There have been startling stories of people holding on to fences to avoid being swept away in the current, watching in disbelief as their cars rush by in a flood of water. This is what our team has been dealing with in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.”

“This is the first time the East Coast has faced a natural disaster at such a large scale,” adds Maqsood Ahmed, Executive Director of ICNA Relief. “New York and New Jersey residents have never seen news headlines like ‘Sandy Leaves Behind ‘Monstrous’ Financial Burden,’ ‘Sandy aftermath challenge: Clearing tons and tons of trash,’ or ‘Hurricane Sandy Barrels Region, Leaving Battered Path.’ We know that residents are struggling to cope, and we’re here to lend a hand.”

As the social services and disaster relief branch of the Islamic Circle of North America, ICNA Relief has responded to 19 disasters in 15 states over the past 18 months. The organization’s disaster recovery program consists of disaster preparation, disaster relief, and long-term recovery and case management. Considered an expert in the field of disaster relief, ICNA Relief’s efforts have been recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Voluntary Organizations Assisting in Disasters (NVOAD) as well as numerous national and local relief agencies.

According to its website, ICNA Relief “seeks to alleviate human suffering by providing caring, compassionate, and practical assistance to survivors of natural and man-made disasters, in the United States [and] strive[s] to accurately represent Islamic values and compassion, serving humanity regardless of race, religion, or culture.” The organization also works to ensure victims of disasters have fully recovered before leaving the affected areas.

Within days of Hurricane Sandy, ICNA Relief’s Disaster Response Services team pooled together its resources, calling in members from Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida. After deliberating and taking previous disaster management cases into account, the organization created an action plan for recovery in New York and New Jersey.

“Our team has been trained in handling disasters, managing large groups of volunteers and most importantly being sensitive to the needs of a natural disaster victim,” says Ahmed. “From years of experience in dealing with disasters like Katrina, Ike and the Joplin tornado, we know that there is a lot of management and paperwork involved in assisting disaster victims. It takes a great amount of time, energy and teamwork to respond to people’s needs in an efficient manner, but we’ve brought together a great group in New York and New Jersey that will do its best to help those affected by Sandy.”

In the past four weeks, the team has spread out across the region, distributing thousands of hot meals and meeting hundreds of individual needs. Outreach in New York and New Jersey focused on the areas of Brighton Beach, Far Rockaway, Staten Island, Long Beach, Irvington, Atlantic City, Somerset, East Orange and Newark.

Armed with its own truck, trailer and tools, ICNA Relief has conducted block-by-block home assessments, distributed food packages, water, coats, blankets, scarves, socks, heaters and clothing to affected residents, and helped sweep, clean and gut homes, mosques and Islamic schools and centers.

In New York alone, the organization has distributed over 600 pantry-food packages, 1,300 bottles of water, 1,200 blankets, 80 coats, and hundreds of heaters to families without heat. Families who’ve lost their clothing in the floodwaters have been provided with 500 pairs of warm socks, 100 winter scarves, and 75 children’s kits, which consist of towels, blankets, hats & clothes.

In Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, a team of doctors sponsored by APPNA (Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America) and PTI (Pakistan Tareeki Insaaf) has set up a medical clinic and offered physical check-ups, blood pressure readings and sugar tests, as well as prescriptions and free over-the-counter medication.

ICNA Relief has also provided disaster crisis counseling and offered important FEMA information to residents on its hotline and at ICNA Relief neighborhood booths managed by volunteers from various organizations.

There has been no shortage of individuals and organizations willing to help the victims of the hurricane. Thousands of volunteers have descended upon local recovery headquarters to aid in relief efforts. The Muslim American Society (MAS), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), Islamic Center of NYU (ICNYU), the Hidaya Foundation, Islamic Relief USA, the Zakat Foundation, Life for Relief and Development, the American Muslim Consumer Conference (AMCC), Al Ghazaly School and numerous local mosques including Masjid Omar, ISCJ, MCMC, NHEIC, NBIC and Masjid Shuhada have come together.

under the umbrella of ICNA Relief to rebuild the homes and lives of their friends and neighbors.

As a member of NVOAD and NY and NJ State VOADs, ICNA Relief has worked with numerous partner organizations, periodically reported quantitative updates via conference call and submitted written reports to FEMA directors. It has established connections with many local mosques, centers and individuals in the affected areas, and Ahmed says the organization will continue its work in the region for at least two more months before reassessing the needs of residents and reevaluating its own plan for long-term recovery.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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