With no end in sight, the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are staying dedicated to helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy for as long as it takes.
“We don’t really know how long we’re going to be here,” said Cpl. Bryan Nygaard, a public affairs Marine assigned to documenting the relief efforts of the 26th MEU, who added that he hopes the MEU will be able stay as long as they’re needed.
The 26th MEU, with more than 300 Marines and sailors and 12 helicopters, has partnered with Lejeune-based 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard to help the residents of Staten Island, N.Y., return to normalcy as soon as possible.
The areas around Staten Island have flooded, lost power and access to gasoline, and in some cases have limited supplies of water and food. The MEU is currently helping area residents clear debris, pick up trash off the streets so emergency vehicles can drive through and pump water out of houses so residents have a place to live again. They’ve been using their helicopters to transport and relocate generators and restore beaches and have pumped more than 90,000 gallons of water from apartment buildings in Far Rockaway, N.Y., and another 750,000 gallons from homes in Breezy Point, N.Y., according to a press release from the Department of Defense.
Nygaard said the devastation and destruction he’s seen over the past week has been heartbreaking.
“It really is heart wrenching and it hurts to see it,” he said via telephone. “I met one woman who lost her two infant sons when they were swept away by the current. I saw a guy try to kill himself with a knife because he lost everything, and friends and neighbors tackled him to wrestle the knife away. Family heirlooms, household goods — it’s all out on the street. They don’t have power, electricity or potable water and it makes you want to be thankful for what you have.”
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Pilats, a Marine currently reinforcing the 26th MEU, called his experience “humbling.”
“In general, New Yorkers are very resilient, self-reliant, independent and strong minded people,” Pilats said in a recent article written by 26th MEU Public Affairs Officer Capt. Lucas Burke. “It kind of sets you back and makes you look at what you have and all your comforts when you see the New Yorkers in turmoil — you have families, kids and elders who can’t live in their house and have lost all their belongings.”
The efforts of the MEU were recently recognized by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Michael Barrett, who visited the Marines in Staten Island to praise them for their hasty response and presence that provided hope to the tri-state area.
The 26th MEU, stationed at Camp Lejeune and comprised of personnel from Cherry Point and New River, was in pre-deployment training when it received orders to head north to the New York-New Jersey areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. As an expeditionary force-in-readiness operating from the sea, the MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations.