Staten Island has now become a place of hometown misery, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy’s surging waters that washed away the streets and foundations of hundreds of homes in her path.
Two weeks later, a tight knit waterfront community is still in a complete state of torment while trying to pick up the pieces of what remains of their homes and their lives. Not only are Staten Islanders forced to deal with an overwhelming storm cleanup, but they are also being gawked at like zoo animals by a new breed of storm chasers – the disaster tourist.
Easily recognizable by the superstorm victims, disaster tourists are, as defined by the Associated Press, people drawn to the scene of tragedy to glimpse the pictures they have seen on television come to life. Some tragedy stricken residents are up in arms about the cleanly dressed gawkers who feed other people’s despair, while others think it’s a tad bit intriguing.
"The gawking was amazing last week," said Joanne McClenin to Fox News. Her home was filled with water five feet high on the night Sandy came surging on the island. "It was kind of offensive as a homeowner, because I felt violated."
"It's a little annoying," said Staten Island resident Chris Nasella to the Associated Press. Nasella’s home has been reduced to a shell on the first floor thanks to Sandy. "By the same token, I would do it, too. I don't think anyone wouldn't want to look at boats that are picked up and left on the streets. As long as you don't get a kick out of it, it's an amazing thing."
The storm ravaged section of Midland Beach saw volunteers from states as far as Texas, according to a Staten Island Advance article. On Saturday, cleanup crews worked diligently to tidy up the small area. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited with disaster-relief workers the next day. Napolitano commented on Staten Island’s appearance saying to the Associated Press, "a lot of progress" had been made since the storm hit and especially since her last visit 10 days earlier.
With cleanup moving further along, according to residents, the disaster tourists really have no business clogging the already sloppy streets unless they are on the island to offer their help and assistance. Staten Island resident Michelle Van Tassel witnessed the gawkers first hand as she tried to deliver supplies to those in need but couldn't get through because there were so many people on the street.
"There were a tremendous amount of people who came into the borough to take pictures, to look at the devastation themselves, and it seemed like more of a tourist attraction down there than it actually felt like people who were trying to help," she said to the Associated Press, with her voice breaking.